The Urban Trance

Psychologist Daniel Goleman uses the term “The Urban Trance” in his TED Talk: Why aren’t we all Good Samaritans? Goleman is best known for his writing and work on Emotional Intelligence.

You can also watch his author talk at Google, where he talks about his book “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships”.

So back to the urban trance. In his TED Talk, Goleman discusses empathy, mirror neurons, and the process of simply attending to someone when they talk to you. The “urban trance” refers to the state that many of us are in when we get caught up in what we are doing and tune out the world around us. People may talk to us, but we are not listening. We may observe others, but we do not see them. We are, in effect, in our own “urban trance”. Goleman tells the story of the man in the subway station to demonstrate the urban trance and its counter balance, that of empathy and attending. If you haven’t already watched his TED Talk, see if you can imagine the content of this story before tuning in to what Goleman has to say.

Goleman goes on to share a number of stories about people, many of who lack emotional intelligence, including one man with an astonishingly high IQ but no capacity for feeling how others may feel, in other words, no ability to empathize.

Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, focuses on emotion and affective disorders in the Lab for Affective Neuroscience using the tools of brain imaging.

Goleman and Davidson come together on the More Than Sound Productions website, which has the goal of sharing “ideas that increase our understanding of the human condition.” This site was brought to my attention by a reader who left the following comment on my previous post:

hi, there’s a conversation between Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman which discusses Neuroplasticity which I thought you might find of interest. It’s available on the publisher’s website at

Their ideas mesh well with the discussions on stress, plasticity, and children’s developing brains that were mentioned in my previous post. Thanks to David, who left a comment on my previous post pointing me to Davidson and Goleman!


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