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DUCKWORTH: They asked me to contract certain muscles in my stomach. I was like, “What muscles?”

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Is denial a helpful method of dealing with grief?

DUCKWORTH: I think that every single one of us has been in denial at least once.

DUBNER: Not me! Never denied anything.

*      *      *

DUBNER: Angela, we have a question here from a listener named Anna, which I think you will find very interesting and fairly provocative. Are you ready?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah!

DUBNER: So, Anna writes that she’s 23 years old. She’s a biology research associate, and she wants to know: Is there recorded evidence of denial having a comforting effect on the negative physiological responses to grief.

DUCKWORTH: Hm. This sounds like not a question that people just ask out of pure academic curiosity.

DUBNER: This is true. She writes, literally, “There is a story behind my question.” When she was quite young, around 9 years old, a beloved family member passed away. She writes, “Though he was sick and the family suspected his death was nearing, the news still came suddenly and felt unexpected. My family was driving towards Disney World when we got the call. We finished our day at the park and made plans to return home the next day to attend the funeral. But for the entire day at the park,” she writes, “after receiving the news, I felt horribly sick. I had a headache, stomachache, felt motion sick.” And then, she writes, “I pretended in my head that my beloved uncle who had died was still alive. ‘He’s alive,’ I said over and over to myself in my head. Suddenly, my stomachache and my headache ebbed. And then they were gone. Repeating denial words over and over to myself made me feel physically better. Though I was just 9 years old, I knew that denial didn’t make the happier fiction playing in my head true. I stopped repeating ‘he’s alive’ in my head and,” guess what happened? “My stomachache and headache returned almost instantly.” This is sounding like a true crime case for a psychology T.V. show that hasn’t been made yet. “I spent the drive home and most of the funeral being violently ill. I’m curious if there are any studies on, or literature about, the physical comfort that denial brings in the stages of grief — or maybe I was just a very odd child who had an abnormally severe physical reaction to grief.” Angela, what do you make of this?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think this question that Anna asks is partly about grief. It’s also partly about attention. Because what denial is, is: Moving your attention away from something. And in most cases, I think, away from something that’s painful. She also hints at this “stages of grief” idea that, you know, a lot of people have heard of.

DUBNER: This is the famous Elisabeth Kübler-Ross — the model that she popularized. Yes?

DUCKWORTH: Actually, you probably know more about it than I do. I don’t know whether there’s a lot of scientific basis for it, but what are the stages of grief? There are five of them, right?

DUBNER: Yeah. So, I do know this. And you’re right. It is a popularization. There is very little empirical evidence that this is either universal or—

DUCKWORTH: Even typical, right?

DUBNER: Or, I would almost say— I hesitate to use the word “useful,” because who’s to say what’s useful for someone? But Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a famous Swiss-American psychiatrist. And she was popular for this model about the stages of mourning. The argument came to be that people who were in grief, or in bereavement, would go through five separate sequential stages of mourning: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. But we should say that her career was spent helping patients who were dying — terminal patients — confront their own death, and so this was developed largely from her observations of her dying patients. So, it somehow got ported over to how we grieve for other people. So, like a lot of the conventional wisdom or dogma about grief and bereavement, there just isn’t a lot in the way of empirical evidence to support it. What always made me a little bit reluctant to pay too much attention to this five-stage model is that if one is grieving and doesn’t feel one of those stages or steps, then one might feel that they are somehow failing to experience it the, quote, “right way.” And I should also say: I don’t think she meant it to be this universal model that needs to be followed like a blueprint. But anyway, it has come to be thought of as a universal way of dealing with grief. And — going back to Anna’s note — the first distinct stage of mourning is, yes, denial.

DUCKWORTH: The sort of, like, “nothing happened” — this alternative reality that you create for yourself where there was no tragedy. I think another problem, perhaps, with this “five stages of grief” is that you think of them as kind of being lockstep.

DUBNER: Yeah.

DUCKWORTH: So, for example, you’re on your way to the funeral, and, all of a sudden, you’re experiencing an episode of denial. And then you’re thinking, like, “Oh no, did I go back to the first step? Because I thought I had already gone through anger and bargaining.” So, I think there could be some issues there. But, as I said, I think this is a question not only about grief, which spares none of us, but also about attention — focusing on one thing that’s going on and neglecting everything else that’s going on. That’s what attention is. It’s like a spotlight. Maybe a better analogy would be that your attention is like a penlight. It’s like a tiny pinprick of light in a very dark room. And when you cast your attention onto the water bottle that’s sitting next to your laptop — previously, you hadn’t thought about the water bottle at all. Now, all of a sudden, the water bottle looms large. The same thing, by the way, happens when you think about how attention works when it sweeps across the vast, dark landscape of your internal mind. I mean, I could dredge up a memory for you, Stephen. I’ll do it right now. Can you remember a time where you had a stomach virus when you were in elementary school? Did you ever have a stomach virus when you were a little kid?

DUBNER: I don’t remember — although, I did have one about two months ago, and it depressed the crap out of me.

DUCKWORTH: What happened?

DUBNER: I was traveling. Being sick away from home is the worst. It’s kind of my greatest fear, honestly. And it happened.

DUCKWORTH: Oh! That is so terrible. Well, Stephen, look, I dredged up this unpleasant memory of when you were sick and you were away from home. And until I dredged up that memory — until I adjusted the penlight of your attention to that memory, it was there, you just weren’t paying attention to it.

DUBNER: Thanks a lot.

DUCKWORTH: Yes. Yeah. You’re welcome. So, the idea of denial is that the penlight of your attention is being directed away from something. It just tends to be the painful things that we’re motivated to not think about. And the thing about human attention, as — get ready to drink — Danny Kahneman would often say: “Nothing is as important as what you’re thinking about, while you’re thinking about it.” So, the penlight of attention illuminates some tiny, tiny fraction of reality, and while it’s illuminated, it’s real. And when it’s not illuminated, it’s not real. It’s why, I think, if you’re for a moment going to just pretend that your loved one is still alive, then, of course, you don’t feel bad anymore.

DUBNER: When Anna talks about the physiological response she had to this grief — or I don’t know if we’d say it’s a physiological response to grief, per se, or stress. But what can you tell us about that, generally?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. There is a distinction there, and there’s more research on the stress response. And the big difference is that, when you experience stress, it’s a threat that you think is current. Grief is an experience of something that you lost in the past. So, there are differences, but they’re both stressful. They’re both adversity. And we all have a physiological response to adverse events that befall all of us at one point or another. You know, maybe our heart rate changes. Maybe our breathing rate changes. And I think that when Anna is having a physical response to grief — like, literally nauseous — it really just underscores that the mind-body connection is real. And when you are thinking and feeling certain things in your mind, your body is going to express or respond to those things. This is typical.

DUBNER: In the case of Anna, what’s really interesting to me, which you highlighted here, is that she could turn her physiological symptoms on and off by acknowledging or denying the grief. To me, though, a big question that I’m totally in the dark about is the universality of denial. Is it really so common? Is that a natural human response to bad outcomes? And if it is, what would be your explanation for why that is?

DUCKWORTH: I think that every single one of us has been in denial at least once.

DUBNER: Not me! Never denied anything.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, that’s right. Except for you, Stephen! I mean, think of it this way. I feel like everything that’s on Netflix these days is some, like, perverse, dark, dystopian, twisted tale. I’ve tried to watch Succession — which you recommended — Ozark, Squid Game. And I find myself, when I’m sitting next to Jason and he insists on putting on another episode of Breaking Bad, literally looking away from the screen. You know, I remember in all those Rocky movies — like Rocky I through Rocky 24 — every time there was the fight scene, I would put my hands over my eyes, or I would shut my eyes tight, and I would put my hands over my ears, because it was really hard for me to watch. That’s denial.

DUBNER You know, there’s a thing they make now. It’s called — what is it? Remote control! And you can actually change the channel and turn it off.

DUCKWORTH: Well, tell that to Jason, because he really loves Breaking Bad, but I find it disturbing. And so, when you put your hands over your eyes or you turn away from something — like, say, for example, you’re driving in your car, and there’s, like, roadkill, and you just avert your eyes. That’s denial. That’s selective attention. That’s taking the tiny penlight that illuminates your conscious awareness and, like, directing it to something that takes away the pain. That’s an adaptive, universal human behavior. And I’ll tell you that many people are familiar with the marshmallow test, which we’ve discussed before. It’s an experimental paradigm for little children. So, 4-year-old children are given this question: “Do you want one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows later?” Children, in this waiting time, have only one job to do, and that is to do nothing until the experimenter comes back in the room. Then you get two marshmallows, right? So, some children stare at the marshmallow. They start sniffing the marshmallow. More successful children look away from the marshmallow.

DUBNER: Just like Angela Duckworth when Breaking Bad comes on T.V. I have to say, if I think about all the people I know: friends, family, acquaintances, et cetera — if I were to name someone who’s at the top of the list at being very good at denial, I think it would be you. I mean, I’ve known you for a while now, and we talk about things in our lives — sometimes on mic, but often not.

DUCKWORTH: Sometimes on the phone.

DUBNER: I think we reserve the grisliest stuff for our phone calls.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah.

DUBNER: But I have to say, you will tell me about something really sad, or even tragic, and then, it’s as if there’s a switch: the negative switches off, and you’re back. And I wouldn’t call that denial, actually. I would just call that super-speed processing of negative stuff. And honestly, I’m in awe of it. Now, there might be others who think, “No, no, no, no, no, no. You need to live longer with that grief, or that sadness, or that tragedy.” Personally, I’m of the opinion that what you do is great. I would like to be more like you in that regard. Can you make me more like you?

DUCKWORTH: You are right that I am in the express lane when it comes to negative emotion. I’m like, “Got it. Good. Now I’m going to merge it back into the positive emotion lane.” My therapist tells me that I am a super-speedy processor, and I don’t know that she wants me to ruminate more, but she did ask me recently, “How are you feeling?” And she has noticed, and I have to agree, that I tend to go so quickly to the intellectualizing — to, like, looking things up on Google Scholar and then processing it from a third-person standpoint. It’s probably a good thing to be able to be feeling something and maybe, actually, not going as quickly through it. As you I think you know, I have scoliosis, and I remember going to this physical therapist when I was, I don’t know, probably a teenager. But I remember it vividly, because they asked me to contract certain muscles in my stomach. And because my back had developed these really strong opponent muscles — probably in response to the curvature — I was like, “What muscles?” She was like, “Oh, do this.” And I was like, “What?” And I feel like that sometimes when my therapist says, “And then, how are you feeling?” And I was like, “What do you mean?” I can tell you what I’m thinking. I can tell you what it means. I can also cite the literature. But that’s a very different question than just, “What are you feeling?”

DUBNER: Do you have people in your life who are frustrated with your seeming low level of, quote, “feeling” in that circumstance?

DUCKWORTH: Uh, I don’t have a lot of people telling me, like, “Hey, I wish you would be more in-touch with your emotions.” I think, for other people, by and large, it’s a good thing for them. It’s like: When you tell me we have an 11 o’clock show to do, Stephen, I am going to show up at 11 o’clock, and pretty much come what may, like a submarine, hermetically seal off anything that doesn’t have to bother you. And, you know, when I reflected upon this comment that my amazing therapist made to me, immediately I started intellectualizing, of course. And I was thinking about Anders Ericsson — our common friend who studied world-class experts — before he died, I remember that there was an N.F.L. coach who asked Anders Ericsson a question. And it was about quarterbacks. His intuition was that what makes a truly great quarterback a truly great quarterback is not the ability to make a, like, Hail Mary pass or to be great under pressure, but really what it was is the reliability of that person. Whether it’s raining or snowing, whether they’ve had a good day or a bad day, whether the last seven plays went well or they went terribly, you kind of had this predictability that this person was going to have a narrow range of response that would be generally productive. To me, that’s what it means to be a professional. I could be having a good day or a bad day, but if we have an 11 o’clock call, I’m going to be on the 11 o’clock call, and I’m going to do what I was meant to do.

DUBNER: What would you say are, perhaps, the shortcomings of that approach?

DUCKWORTH: Well, let’s see. What are the problems with—? And I’m not even sure that what I’m describing is denial, in the classic sense. But I think when the speed of our emotional vehicle is going at a different speed than somebody else’s, we’re annoyed.

DUBNER: Wait, who are you saying gets annoyed? The person who’s still processing, or the one who’s already done?

DUCKWORTH: Either one. If somebody is kind of speeding past you and you’re like, “Hey, hold on a second. I haven’t even been allowed to experience this feeling.” On the other hand, I think if you’re the car that’s kind of whizzing down the emotional highway, then you’re kind of annoyed by the person who’s still quote-unquote, “wallowing in their emotions.” I think there is a desire for people to be synchronized with us.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss when denial is helpful and when it’s dangerous.

DUCKWORTH: “Yeah, that’s not happening. Everything’s fine.”

*      *      *

Before we return to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about grief and denial, let’s hear some of your thoughts on the subject. We asked listeners to let us know about the tools that they have found helpful during periods of grief. Here’s what you said:

Kate KIEC: My mom died at age 68, about five-and-a-half years ago, and while her death was unexpected, she had suffered from two chronic illnesses, one of which had caused her to lose her sense of smell. And ironically, it’s this same sense of smell that has become the best tool for me in my grief toolbox. I’ll go into my closet and grab her perfume bottle, which I had saved. And smelling her signature scent allows the floodgates to open, and for me to just spend time crying and grieving. I’ve heard that our sense of smell is most strongly tied to memory. And it’s been very helpful in handling my grief about her death.

Zack GALLINGER-LONG: Hi, Stephen and Angela, what helps me the most during times of grief is structure and productivity. I need something to focus my otherwise negative energy on as I work through the grief process. When my brother was killed in action in 2011, I worked with the city to establish a local veterans memorial park that honors all service members. And although it was a sad time in my life, I didn’t allow it to become a dark time in my life. And what came out of this situation is now a focal point for the community: a long-standing memorial for all who have served, past and present. And for that, I’m grateful.

Gordon MACFARLAND: This is Gordon in Burlington, Vermont. The most intense grief I’ve ever felt was being with my father when he took his last breath. It was just the two of us. A deep feeling of loss overcame me, and I sobbed and sobbed. Then, as if on cue, I recalled a friend having recently said, “You finally grow up when your father dies.” I didn’t grasp it then, but in that moment, I understood dad was passing the baton — as if in a relay. All we had shared together remained. But it was now up to me to carry it on. My grief turned to gratitude.

That was, respectively: Kate Kiec, Zack Gallinger-Long, and Gordon MacFarland. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the psychology of denial.

DUCKWORTH: So, you know, we’ve talked a lot about my mom. I think she was, when I was a young child, the portrait of benevolence and wonderfulness. But I will say this: My mother was a paragon of denial when the three of us were growing up. I think, for her, it was what Freud and his daughter Anna Freud would have called the “defense” of denial, because, for Freud, the general idea was that human beings suffer, and this suffering comes from deep, unresolved conflict. And that pain is something we defend ourselves against. And the defense that he would say is more immature, you know, maladaptive is denial, versus more mature defenses, like people who use humor or altruism against pain. But when we were little, my mom owned this little needlepoint wholesale company, and it was called Lee’s Needle Art. And I would call Lee’s Needle Art, and I would get transferred to my mom. And my mom would say, “What’s wrong?” And I would say, “Annette’s being mean to me,” and my mom would just be, like, some version of, “Yeah, that’s not happening. Everything’s fine.” And I think that it was understandable. You know, she has to defend herself from pain. But I think if you asked me the question, “Hey, what’s wrong with denial? Why did Freud think that this was an immature — or psychotic, even — defense mechanism?” It’s because not paying attention to reality can be very bad.

DUBNER: For obvious reasons. If you’re crossing a street, you don’t acknowledge there are cars whizzing by, you can get crushed. But what are the non-obvious reasons? What are the psychological reasons?

DUCKWORTH: So, why does somebody on the way to a funeral think for a moment, maybe this loved one isn’t dead? Why is it when I call my mother, she’s like, “There is no problem”? It’s to remove that pain. But why do we have pain? Why do we have suffering? It is an alert. It is telling you that something is wrong, and you have to, actually, do something.

DUBNER: So, going back to Anna, who wrote this note to us, what would you make of this tactic? She found that she was successfully able to mute the physical pain by denying. She doesn’t tell us so much about whether and how she processed the pain and the reality later, but it sounds like it was effective in the short run. Does that mean it’s necessarily damaging in the long run, or no?

DUCKWORTH: I don’t think it’s necessarily damaging in the long run. What Anna’s doing there isn’t that different from any of us putting our hands over our eyes in watching a horror movie, or something like that. Now Freud not only said that there are defenses that really end up creating their own problems — denial being the canonical one — there’s something, actually, which seems like denial but isn’t, and actually gives us a sense of what Anna might be doing in this anecdote. And that is called suppression. So, suppression is also a defense. It is a mature defense, however. And I want to tell you that I learned this from George Vaillant, who himself was trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst and later was a Harvard psychiatrist. So, George says suppression is, for the moment, putting something out of your mind — taking that penlight of attention and moving it away to something else. The difference is that you know what you’re doing. The difference is that you have suspended reality intentionally. And you know that at some point you’re probably going to come back to it. He did this longitudinal study of Harvard students that were followed for the rest of their lives. And he tells a story of this young Harvard graduate. And he’s in a submarine, and the submarine sinks to the bottom of the ocean. And there’s a very limited amount of oxygen. And what you do in those situations is, you have to be very still, and very calm, because the more you panic, the more oxygen you use up. But then again, what else would you do? So, he tells the story of this young man who, essentially, is able to draw his mind away from the fact that he is on the cusp of suffocation and death — but he knows that’s what he’s doing. So, suppression is a close cousin of denial, but in denial you really are unable to get out of that alternative reality and come back, and in suppression you are.

DUBNER: I want to bring this back for a minute to denial and grief. When my own mom died— So, I was— I was an adult. I was maybe 35 — something like that. And honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel much grief, because she was in her 80s. We’d had a very close relationship with some contention, but then we did reconcile. And there was a huge generation gap. My mom was 40-something when I was born, because I was the youngest of eight. And I respected her. She was very smart, very tough, very hardworking. She had a lot of excellent qualities, but also, I just didn’t feel super close to her, because she was so much older than me. And so, when she died, which wasn’t unexpected — and I was with her, along with most of my siblings, when she died — I just didn’t expect to feel that much. So, I sat shiva for my mom, and during that period, I remember exactly where I was. I was walking outside, on an early cell phone. And I remember what the light looked like. I remember what the trees looked like. And I was talking with a friend. And he had said, “Listen, I’m sure this is going to be really hard for you, because you had such an intense relationship.” And when he said that, I was taken aback. I was like, “No, no. It’s not going to be so hard.” And when I look back on it, I think what happened is that I had figured that I had survived my father’s death when I was very young — I was 9 or 10 — so I figured: This one I can manage easily. But then, in the coming weeks after the shiva, I realized, my friend — he was so right. And my mother’s death ended up totally knocking me on my butt for quite a while. And I realized it doesn’t matter how old you are. When you become an orphan, it hits hard. And so the lesson that I took away from that is: if I had it to do again, I would have denied it a bit less — or at least I would have received it a bit harder, perhaps — and been more open-minded about letting my emotions lead the way, rather than me trying to control them. And I don’t know if that’s useful to anyone at all, but it’s really stuck with me, and it’s really changed the way I think about grief and death.

DUCKWORTH: I think speeding through death, grief, trauma, adversity, in the fast lane with EZ-pass like I’ve learned to do? I don’t think it’s always the best thing — not just because the other cars are like, “Hey, wait a second!” But also, I think that is why my therapist wants me to think about it. I mean, what is life? Partly, I think, what it means to exist is to experience the full range of emotions. And before I leap to intellectualizing, and Google Scholar-ing, and writing a pithy anecdote about something, I think it is good to slow down. One of my favorite poems, actually, which was sent to me in the wake of a tragic event from a good friend of ours, Mike Maughan, is by Robert Frost, and it’s called “Out Out—.” It’s not nearly as well known, I think, as “The Road Less Traveled,” or “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” or the greatest hits, but it tells the story of a little boy who dies in an accident. It was apparently something that Robert Frost read in the local newspaper. And so, he talks about this sudden and tragic thing. The very last lines are: “No one believed. They listened at his heart. Little—less—nothing! —and that ended it. No more to build on there. And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

DUBNER: Hmm.

DUCKWORTH: And again, here we have the penlight of attention that is first on the tragedy. “Oh my gosh, this is happening!” And then, there’s death and loss. And then, at some point, it’s not denial to move on and to have your attention go to other things. But I do think that the possibility of having your attention go back to that — to, then, remembering the boy — and then, going back to your affairs. That, to me, is maturity.

DUBNER: And Mike Maughan, we should say— Do you know why I feel cosmically connected to Mike Maughan?

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. Why?

DUBNER: So, he’s a Mormon, and most Mormons go do a mission. Where do you think he did his mission?

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. I should know this!

DUBNER: As you know, people go all over the world to do their missions.

DUCKWORTH: Oh Gosh. Remind me.

DUBNER: It would not be on the top 1,000 lists of anyone’s places to see before they die.

DUCKWORTH: Okay.

DUBNER: It would not be on any sort of even vacation destination.

DUCKWORTH: All right.

DUBNER: It would, however, be the city in which I was born.

DUCKWORTH: What!

DUBNER: And it was Schenectady, New York. So, imagine being a young Mormon getting your assignment. “I’m going to São Paulo. I’m going to —”

DUCKWORTH: That is the least glamorous mission assignment you could possibly receive.

DUBNER: Right. So, I think that’s probably made him a little bit more in touch with his emotions, having spent a year or two in Schenectady.

DUCKWORTH: He probably had to have a little grief and denial right there.

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now, here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.

Angela says that she tends to put her hands over her eyes during the fight scenes of Rocky I through 24. In actuality, there are only nine Rocky movies. There’s the original 1976 film starring Sylvester Stallone. Then, the sequels: Rocky II through V. There’s the 2006 film Rocky Balboa which again, stars Stallone — this time as a retiree and a widower. And finally, there’s the 2015 film Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan — about the son of Rocky’s arch nemesis Apollo Creed — and its two subsequent sequels.

Later, Angela tells a story of a young man who used “suppression” as a defense mechanism to deal with his fear while in a sinking submarine. The details she shares here are slightly off. The story is from psychiatrist George Vaillant’s 1977 book “Adaptation to Life.” He writes about Richard Lucky, one of the participants in his famous Harvard Study of Adult Development. Lucky experienced a navy diving accident during World War II. While 40 feet underwater, his air valve jammed with only eight minutes left of oxygen in his diving helmet. Instead of panicking, Lucky said that he calmly suppressed his feelings while waiting for help. He was ultimately rescued before he ran out of air.

Also, Angela misremembers the name of Robert Frost’s most famous poem. It is, in fact, titled “The Road Not Taken,” not as she calls it, “The Road Less Traveled.”

Finally, Angela says that the poem “Out, Out—” tells the story of a boy’s death that Robert Frost read about in a newspaper. The narrative is actually based on an incident that happened to Raymond Fitzgerald — the son of Frost’s friend and neighbor Michael Fitzgerald. In 1901, Raymond died suddenly from heart failure after injuring himself in an accident with a buzz-saw. The title is a play on Macbeth’s “Out, out, brief candle.”

That’s it for the fact-check.

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This show was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. Our staff also includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Gabriel Roth, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Julie Kanfer, Mary Diduch, Ryan Kelley, Jasmin Klinger, Emma Tyrell, Lyric Bowdich, Jacob Clemente, and Alina Kulman. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to nsq@freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!

DUBNER: Do we think it’s a coincidence that the researcher behind the marshmallow test, Walter Mischel, shared a first name with the protagonist in Breaking Bad, Walter White? Cannot be a coincidence, can it?

DUCKWORTH: I think there’s something very cosmic going on.

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