Monday, November 24, 2008

It Hurts to Think - So We Don't

When we were kids, I used to tease my sister for saying that she didn't like to think. She used to say that it "hurt her brain." It turns out that she was right. New brain research shows that some of the brain waves produced when the prefrontal cortex is "thinking" are the same ones that are produced when you plunge your hand into a bucket of ice cold water!

Then how do we think all day without being in constant pain? Evidently we don't.

According to training and now persuasion expert Russell H. Granger in his very interesting book The 7 Triggers to Yes, we leave most of the daily decisions to the more primitive brain structure, our old friend the amygdala. The amygdala is one of the simpler brain structures, fully developed at birth and long considered the emotional area of the brain. The amygdala does not do any heavy lifting in terms of weighing facts and applying logic but it does surprisingly make many decisions for us. Says Granger, "People use the emotional parts of the brain to make what they believe to be rational decisions."

Why? Because it hurts! The brain has to work hard to think logically. Scientists claim that the brain consumes 300 percent more caloric energy when engaged in cognitive thinking then when in the automatic mode. (hmmm.....)

Granger's book teaches us that if information comes into the brain with certain conditions that he calls "triggers," the amygdala will make and act upon decisions without ever involving the complex thinking area of the brain. That way, we avoid the pain and energy drain of complex thinking.

Here's my analogy. The amygdala (Amy) is like our own personal receptionist who has been with our company (Brain Corp.) for years. Amy, played by a Jennifer Tilly like character, can handle most requests that come in herself. She doesn't like to bother the prefrontal cortex, The Executive, because he, played by...errr...Bill Gates... will create all kinds of pain for everyone while solving the problem. Sometimes Amy oversteps her boundaries and makes decisions on things that would have been better decided upon by The Executive but Amy wants to spare the company the pain.

For those seeking to persuade, there are certain conditions under which Amy feels comfortable making the decision herself. If the information is presented by a respected authority and/or by a trusted friend, she will generally not bother The Executive. If the information is presented in the form of a comparison with one answer appearing much better than another, Amy is free to act on her own. If the information appeals to her hopes and dreams or helps her avoid something that she fears, that is (literally) a "no-brainer." If the request is for something that is consistent with things she has done in the past, she will be comfortable to act without asking for evaluation and logic from The Executive.

This kind of thinking, or non-thinking as the case may be, takes place in every one of us. It is not gender-based; I only used the term she/her to match the name Amy for amygdala. We all have an amygdala making decisions for us all day every day without consulting the complex thinking portion of our brains. We respond quickly and automatically most of the time. Says Granger, "All people most of the time, and most people all of the time, are in the automatic mode."
People use the emotional parts of their brains to make what they consider rational decisions. Emotional context helps you make the best choice, often in a split second --long before the rational centers of the brain are activated. Therefore we must learn to primarily address our requests to the emotional parts of the brain rather than to the brain's rational centers.
The book is very interesting and informative. It explains both how and why the brain functions under certain conditions plus describes in detail how you can apply various triggers to easily persuade people to agree to your point of view or sale pitch. It is also a good reminder for all of us to be aware of our own decision making process. If we seek to make wise decisions on important issues, we should take the extra time and accompanying brain-pain to use the thinking part of the brain. Not only will we have smarter outcomes, we may burn up some extra calories in the process!

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