(Ashland, Ore.) — Mike Rousell, a psychologist and emeritus professor of education at SOU, has a new book that should surprise no one who has followed his career. “The Power of Surprise,” which will be released Sept. 15 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, is the result of more than 30 years of researching life-altering events and the surprises that typically triggered them.
“One day, while pouring over my vast collection of transformative stories, looking for patterns, I experienced a revelation: A surprise sparked most of these events,” Rousell said. “Here’s the key: Moments that change us happen to us, not by us, during a surprise event.”
He cites the example of “Cindy,” a student who tended to be among the last to finish tests, and a librarian who complimented that slowness as “attentive deliberation that shows grit.”
“The comment surprised Cindy, giving her a burst of the motivator neurotransmitter dopamine and creating a window for belief formation,” Rousell said. “Now, when Cindy writes tests, her instincts prompt her to go slowly and feel proud because it confirms her grit.”
The new book – which can already be ordered on Amazon – examines the science of surprise, how it can result in spontaneous personal and societal changes, and how it is used strategically by comedians, magicians, filmmakers, writers and others. Rousell looks at how surprise can open the door for a change in belief even without conscious awareness and how it can be tapped to enrich lives, maximize influence and create positive mindsets.
He said the book is intended for a general audience – parents, teachers, coaches, supervisors, healthcare providers and others who may want to draw upon the positive influences of surprise.
Rousell said that surprise events produce a jolt of dopamine, a chemical that enables the transmission of signals among the brain’s nerve cells.
“I found that big surprises in our evolutionary past often indicated momentous opportunity or danger,” he said. “Thinking slowed reaction time. Those that stopped to think during critical moments often perished, along with the propensity to ponder when surprised. Evolution favored those who learned instantly. As a result, we developed a disposition to bypass thinking and learn instantly.”
Rousell was an associate professor of education at SOU for about 12 years before his retirement in March 2020. His previous publications include the 2007 book, “Sudden Influence: How Spontaneous Events Shape Our Lives.” A video of his 12-minute presentation about surprise at a 2019 TEDx Talks event in Salem drew thousands of views on YouTube.
He received his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Alberta, and his master of education and doctorate from the University of Oregon. He taught elementary, middle and high school in Edmonton, Alberta, before joining the School of Education at SOU, and also has worked in private practice and school counseling as a certified psychologist.