In his book Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives neuroscientist Dean Buonomano gives some fascinating reasons for why our memory, beliefs and behavior are subject to serious flaws…even if we’re unaware of it. Simply put, our brain evolved for a different time and place. He uses the example of a skunk’s effective defense mechanism: When attacked they turn around, lift their tails and spray. Very effective for scaring off a coyote, not so much against an oncoming car.
It’s somewhat comforting to know that there’s an evolutionary bias (i.e. I can’t help it) for eating naughty food and blowing my budget when I know these behaviors aren’t helpful. So my brain’s operating system is outdated. Is there an upgrade?
Luckily there is: behavioral priming. Buonomano cites an NYU study using word puzzles to illustrate how we create “behavior nodes”. In the study, subjects were asked to complete word puzzles. Some had to come up with words associated with kindness while others had puzzles with words biased toward being rude. After finishing this task, subjects were told to talk to a research assistance pretending to be on the phone. In measuring how long each subject waited before interrupting the on-going phone conversation, it was found that those who completed puzzles using more rude words waited less time to interrupt the phone conversation.
If the words, images, and sounds surrounding us constantly influence our thoughts and actions, what are we subjecting ourselves to on a regular basis?
More importantly, how do we prime our brains to turn it off without turning away?
- Insight on Brain Development (enfamil.com)
- Brain scans appear to show changes associated with violent behavior (esciencenews.com)
- What is Controlling Our Minds? (sustainabletimes.wordpress.com)
- Into ‘the science of thriving’ (philly.com)