The Neuroscience of Stress

there are many different kinds of stress, some can actually be good for us in small doses, however on the whole stres hurts people.

there are many different kinds of stress, some can actually be good for us in small doses, however on the whole stress hurts people.

Stress, it affects every single one of us whether we like it or not. Stress can stem from a variety of things: work, play, love, family, and the list can go on for miles. Anything that we’re emotionally invested in, directly and even indirectly, has the potential to cause us stress in our lives and often does. You cannot avoid stress. Eventually it will seek you out and hunt you down. So if you can’t avoid stress, you might as well be armed to better deal with it.

Like, are we Talking Good Stress or Bad Stress?

Actually, not all stress is the same. For anyone who has ever played a sport you’re probably familiar with butterflies – and I’m not talking about the animal formerly known as the caterpillar. What I am talking about is that queasy feeling that you get in your stomach right before the big game. However, a small dose of stress, like butterflies, can go a long way. Michael Jordan openly admits to having had butterflies before big games, but that didn’t sop him from performing at amazing levels throughout his career. It may have actually helped fuel him.

A stark contrast to butterflies is aversive stress. This is a serious form of stress that is debilitating, and can significantly hinder our performance. This type of stress manifests itself differently in every single person. In fact, neuroscientists struggle to link a single set of universal physiological responses to aversive stress because every person perceives stimuli differently and therefore reacts differently. Dogs may not frighten me; however dogs may scare the hell out of one of my friends leading to a stressful response. This is the type of stress I want to focus on in this post, aversive stress.

Defining Aversive Stress

University of Washing professor and author of Brain Rules, John Medina, describes this negative form of stress as having three main attributes.  1. There must be an aroused physiological response detectable by an outside party.  2. The stressor must be perceived as aversive, meaning if you had the choice of avoid the situation all together you would. 3. The person must not feel in control of the stressor.

A Stressed Brain is a Useless Brain

In relation to stress there are two key hormones at work in our brains, adrenaline and cortisol.  At low levels cortisol helps our brains function optimally by facilitating thought and cognition. In response to a stressor soaring cortisol levels paired with a boost of adrenaline can literally paralyze the brain’s critical abilities. In this stressed state we no longer focus on the task at hand, but instead we shift our focus and attention to the stressor which results in sub par performance of our task. In addition to how we respond, prolonged stressful states can actually negatively affect the way we learn and intake information. Furthermore, stress lowers our body’s ability to fight off illness because our immune systems weaken with our hormonal surges.

 stress relief

Control Freak

Stressors that are perceived as out of our control often do the most damage to our brains and bodies. When we perceive to have little or no control over a situation the hypothetical negative outcomes we tend to focus on are knock out punch. It’s simple. Human beings don’t like the unknown. In relation to stress, human beings hate the unknown, especially when the unknown is almost certain to result in a negative outcome. Our current economy is a prime example. There is no telling how bad our economic situation may continue to get, but because the future is unknown and laced with negativity it gives many people a reason to stress.

On the flip side having too much control leaves us too emotionally (hormonally) invested in things that may not be of actual concern to us. It’s important to learn what you can and cannot control in your life and more importantly accept it; by doing so you can deflect potentially stressful situations and the biological response that accompanies them. This is easier said than done and often requires you to pull away from your emotions in a heightened state to examine your response from a logical stand point.

How we deal with stress has a lot to do with our biology. Some people are just biologically better at dealing with stress than others. In fact, men, on average tend to be better at coping with stress than women. I will note that this does not make men more capable than women, because on average women are much better at perceiving other’s emotional states. It’s a give and take of social intelligence that balances out in the end.

Stress at Work

Whether you’re an entry level employee or an executive, you’re face to face with stress every single day in the work place. Stress has a trickle down effect from the very top of our organizations that can permeate the entire culture of a company. There is and always will be constant pressure to improve and achieve our goals. Sometimes this pressure is enough to cause aversive stress, and for many it does.

Leaders and bosses should be extremely mindful of stress formation and stress reaction amongst their employees. The pressure of constant improvement coupled with negative outbursts from a boss can be disastrous for professionals. Stress, like our emotions, is contagious. If the tone of management has become increasingly negative or perceived as hostile, you can rest assure the quality of work will suffer in the long run unless changes are made.

Bosses should make a conscious effort to focus on how they choose to motivate and communicate with their staff. If you’re in the unfortunate situation of working in a job that causes you great amounts of stress my best advice is to get out. There is no telling the toll that the stress may be taking on your brain and body.

You’ve got to move it move it. What? Move it!

Movers and Shakers 

I have a niece and she is crazy. I mean she is just plain nuts. She is also only two years old, so she is living up to the “terrible two’s” stereotype, if not surpassing it. Now I don’t mean to say that she is a bad kid – and she’s not, she’s absolutely adorable – but she just gets into everything. She is curious, as all children are. If something has her attention she’s going to make a full effort to explore and find out more about it. The need to explore is a human trait and is deeply rooted in our neural evolution. For thousands and thousands of years humans have been very active in exploring planet Earth (and other planets too). Our activity as a result of our exploration has had some pretty profound impacts on our brain development. 

 Humans are made to Move 

notice that all of these people are in motion. that could be you!

notice that all of these people are in motion. that could be you!

Who wants to walk 12 miles with me today? Any takers? Probably not.  It might surprise you to find out that our human ancestors traveled as much as 12 miles a day. They did this to find food, safety and to explore. Thousands of years of traveling did much to improve the brain functions of early man, and it still holds true for humans today. 

 Our brains make up only 2% of our body mass, yet account for 20% of our energy use. That’s an incredible fact considering that if the brain was like the rest of the body is should really account for 2% of energy use. Oxygen is vital to brain nourishment. Activity (exercise) does humans a lot of good. When the body is moving during exercise it pumps blood and oxygen through out the body and especially to the brain. Nitric Oxide is a flow regulating molecule that through exercise creates more blood vessels in the brain in some pretty key areas. This process of neurogenesis helps improve our cognitive ability. 

 Don’t be a couch potato 

 

I highly recomend this book.

I highly recomend this book.

University of Washington Neurologist and author of the book Brain Rules, John Medina, shows that our society gives us a lot of reasons be a couch potato. Things like television, computers, and video games often allow people to sit around for hours upon hours with little body movement. Couple that with fast food and you wonder why America is the world’s fattest nation.  John goes a step further and examined some of our most institutional environments that we created for ourselves and how they negatively impact our brain development and chemistry. I’m talking about classrooms and cubicles, the mainstays of our educational and professional systems. Think about it for eight plus hours a day our children and coworkers are often sitting motionless at a desk or trapped in some fabric-lined neural jail cell. For our brains to function optimally we as humans need to move. 

Active Performance 

It’s important to note that exercise alone will not improve your cognitive ability but repeated tests have shown a strong association to improved cognitive performance. In fact it was found that physically fit kids and adults had faster response times compared to their over weight counter parts. What’s more amazing is that physical activity and exercise were found to decrease your odds of Alzheimer Disease by 60% and stroke by an amazing 57%. 

The great news is that you don’t have to run marathons to benefit from exercise. All you have to do is walk about 20 minutes a day three days a week and be more conscious of your dietary intake. It really doesn’t take much. It should also be noted that balance is key to exercise. Overdoing workouts will negatively impact your brain function. So be fit in a manner that comfortably works best for you. Walk when you can and breathe deep and often because Oxygen is so important your brain’s health and development. 

 We have the same brains our early ancestors did that walked 12 miles a day. So be active and make the most of your brain. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Medina that sums up why humans are made to move.  

“We were not used to sitting in a classroom for 8 hours at a stretch. We were not used to sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours at a stretch. If we sat around the Serengeti for 8 hours – heck, 8 minutes – we were usually somebody’s lunch.”

Are You Socially Intelligent Enough to Lead?

 

more than likely this woman hates her job. how about you?

more than likely this woman hates her job. how about you?

 

Hate Your Job? Join the Other Millions of Americans…

 

A recent survey conducted by Entrepreneur Magazine suggested that 77% of Americans dislike their jobs.  Most of the people cited that office politics as well as their bosses were part of the reason why they disliked their current occupation. I found it really interesting that it was other people, and not job descriptions, that were given as the main reason for people hating their jobs.

 

Today’s business world is a fickle beast.  It moves at break neck speeds and demands everything from you and your peers.  In corporations there is a constant sense of urgency as you’re held to quarterly results and expected to reach your growth goals.  I have spent a great deal of time researching the culture of corporate America and it’s scary to see the negative progression of our supposed “productive cultures”. There is a growing demand for results and lessening of support. This current culture crisis in America would be enough to make anyone hate their job, yet most of the negativity is directed at our bosses.

 

Believe it or not, there are some vestiges where good corporate culture fosters success and growth. It’s really sad that these businesses are few and far between but they do exist and the reason they succeed is because of their management and social intelligence.

 

Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership

 

In September of 2008 Harvard Business Review posted an article that tackled this very subject. It was titled Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership and was written by Daniel Goleman, PhD and Richard Boyatzis. If you subscribe to HBR I would highly recommend checking out this article. This article was viewed as ground breaking and cutting edge by the business community.

 

Goleman, who is the leading expert in social intelligence, looked at management from a social neuroscience perspective.  He focused on the importance of empathy and understanding and becoming attuned to others moods. He stressed the importance of developing a genuine (that is the key word here) interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.  As it turns out certain people have a biological predisposition that allows them to be more emotionally attuned and aware. However, it’s important to note that these skills can be developed over time.

 

In the past it has been common practice to promote a worker based solely on results. Promoting based only on results seems to make perfect sense, however more often than not this decision to promote based on numbers backfires.  Sales is a prime example. I have seen numerous sales reps promoted to managers, and at the same time I have seen a vast majority of them fail in their new position. The reason being was though they could produce sales results they do not have the social intelligence to enable their staff to produce the same results. Sadly most do no understand the nuances of understanding and communicating so they try to force results and goals on their staff and that’s where rifts start to form. Results are important when selecting a manager, but along with results social interactions should be looked at heavily to ensure you’re getting a person who is skilled in understanding and communicating with others.

 

A Happy Boss is a Great Boss

 

Research suggests that top performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often as mid performing leaders. A reason for this is that being in a good mood helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively.  Laughter is paramount to social intelligence. It’s been said that when communicating with another person laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

 

There is a line though when it comes providing a positive environment. There are strict bosses out there and conversely there are bosses that are not strict enough. A good manager and leader will know how to handle that line because they will have understood how to interact with each individual employee to get the most out of them. Leaders have to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood.

The carrot on a stick method doesn’t make neural sense.  If you want to succeed in the long run you need to break away from the trite management strategy that would have you threatening your staff and scaring them into results. It might produce some short term results but it comes at a high price in the long run – the loss of trust from your staff. Become a socially intelligent leader; genuinely understand the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and talents of your staff and yourself. Enable your staff for long term success and have fun while doing it. Accomplish this and the results might surprise you. After all, research in the past decade has confirmed that there is a large performance gap between socially intelligent and socially unintelligent leaders.

The Good, the Bad, and the Monkey: The Good/Evil Debate from Social Neuroscience

only social neuroscience can bring these three together

only social neuroscience can bring these three together

Are human beings inherently good or evil? This question has long be debated and was made most famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes.  Both sociologists agreed that all men are created equal; however they greatly disagreed on the inherent nature of man. Hobbes argued that man is, by default, selfish and as a result, harmful to others. Rousseau argued the opposing more optimistic view point that man is by default a good being, but through the persuasion of their state or society has been influenced to perform acts of evil.  It would seem that both men evaluated social interactions as their gauge for the capacity for good or evil in humans.  A look into the science behind these social interactions may help sway this debate.

 

  

What monkeys can teach us about compassion

 Six rhesus monkeys have been trained to pull chains to get food. At one point the seventh monkey, in full view of the others, gets a painful shock whenever one of them pulls for food. On seeing the pain of the shocked monkey, four of the rhesus monkeys start pulling a different chain, one that delivers less food to them but that inflicts no shock to the other monkey. The fifth monkey stops pulling any chain at all for five days, and the sixth monkey for twelve days – that is, both starve themselves to prevent shocking the seventh monkey.

 

Daniel Goleman PhD calls this instinctive compassion. Shockingly, in similar tests conducted with both lab rats and infants, both performed in the same altruistic manner as the monkeys.  So is this proof humans are innately good?

From a neuroscience perspective I would say yes, humans are innately good, but with a twist. Hobbes argued that humans are selfish and that was the root of their evil. This is only partly correct. Remember the old brain, the brain that was concerned primarily with our own safety, the brain that we share with nearly every other mammal? That brain is selfish, and it serves us right to be so, other wise we would have been lost many thousands of years back in our evolution.  What differentiates us from the other mammals is our mid brain (emotion) and our new brain (thought) that compliment our old brain. Since all three of these brains work together they are interconnected and by design allow us to feel what we see in other animals and people. Seeing discomfort makes us feel uncomfortable and because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable we can take steps to alleviate the other animals discomfort causing us to perform a good deed. 

 

Back to the monkeys, you see when the six monkeys saw the seventh monkey being shocked they empathized and mirrored with the visible pain of the seventh monkey in their own brains. The six monkeys then thought about their own action options, and then acted by choosing less food or no food at all to keep the seventh monkey from pain. This is easily proved in a lab but it is not 100% in real time. I’ll explain in my future posts.

 

We’re no different than rhesus monkeys

 

I’ll end on this: A similarity that humans experience from time to time that reminds me of the very experiment with the rhesus monkeys. Have you ever been driving in your car on the expressway you accidentally cut off another drive and didn’t even realize you did so until the second you had actually done it? I’m guessing, yes, you have.

 

Here’s how the experience probably ended after you accidentally cut off the other driver. You either heard the irate honking of the other driver or you looked in your mirror and the car finally came out of your blind spot. Startled, you stop playing with whatever was distracting you, sit up straight, and as the other driver begins to pull up next to your car you make a dedicated effort keep looking ahead even though you can already feel that the person in the other car is staring at you with hatred and disgust. Like the rhesus monkeys you can’t stand seeing the pain or anger of another human because it triggers something in your own brain (mirror neurons) that causes a similar emotion, and especially because your action was the root of their anger. So your best option given the circumstances is to become the best driver you can be at that very moment while avoiding all visual contact to prevent the transmission of the other driver’s negative emotions.

 

So please drive safely people 🙂

 

 

Monkeys, Ice Cream Cones, and Mirror Neurons: The Three-Way That Gave Way to Social Neuroscience

work those mirror neurons baby monkey. work it!

work those mirror neurons baby monkey. work it!

A Macaque monkey sat in his cage in the corner of a neuroscience lab in Italy during a hot summer in the mid 1990’s. The monkey looked a bit goofy wearing a helmet type device that was rigged with electrodes that were supposed to detect a neuron that fired when the monkey raised its arm. As one of the Italian researchers entered the room the monkey sat with its arm at its side. The Italian researcher, like most people during a hot summer’s day, was enjoying an ice cream cone.  He turned and inspected the monkey’s cage and noticed that nothing was going on. The monkey was just chilling with its electric rigged hockey helmet and its arms still at its sides.  What happened next was amazing. The researcher raised his ice cream cone to his mouth and the electrodes starting registering that the monkey’s neuron was firing. However, there was one problem: the monkey didn’t raise its arm.  As the researcher raised the ice cream to his mouth again the neuron fired once more. Something was up…

 

 

 

Like most great discoveries this was a complete accident. What the researcher and his monkey counterpart stumbled upon was called a “mirror neuron”. A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting. Though the monkey didn’t actually move it’s arm the neuron still fired because it mirrored or made a connection with the researcher when he raised his arm.  Currently science has only found mirror neurons in humans, primates and some birds.

 

This very discovery was the seed that would eventually grow into Social Neuroscience. Social Neuroscience functions on the principle that we are wired to connect. Mirror neurons amongst many emerging discoveries are proof our brain’s very design is to be socialable. This means that every person we encounter has an affect on our brain, and that in turn, affects our bodies. Dan Goleman, author of Social Intelligence has this to offer:

 

“To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mold not just our experience but our biology. The brain-to-brain link allows our strongest relationships to shape us on matters as benign as whether we laugh at the same jokes or as profound as which genes are (or are not) activated in T-cells, the immune system’s foot soldiers in the constant battle against invading bacteria and viruses.  That link is a double-edged sword: nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our bodies.”

 

Think about it this way: Can you ever recall a time when either you or a friend was in a particularly bad relationship with a significant other? At the end of the relationship did the constant fighting and ill tempered interactions affect your biological state, as in you felt sick, tired, or even nauseated from having to deal with that person. That’s Social Neuroscience at its worst, however, it gives a stark introcuction into how social relationships and interactions can truly affect you both in the short term and the long term.

 

Social Intelligence is an advanced companion to emotional intelligence. Now that I have somewhat introduced both I can begin to give some more examples of situations and people you might encounter or have encountered and how to get the most out of those people and situations.

The Importance of Balance, and Why We “Black Out”

 The human brain is the pinnacle of efficiency. That 3lbs piece of white and grey matter has enough energy flowing through it to power a 10 watt light bulb. That’s enough energy to make Uncle Fester jealous. Now to begin to understand the brain we need to understand how it uses its energy. For the brain to remain highly efficient and functioning properly it relies on being in a balanced state. That means the brain needs both positive and negative processes working at the same time to create a balance.  If your brain falls out of balance some weird stuff can go down. To best illustrate this let’s look at a favorite college past time, “blacking out.”  Keep in mind this is going to be a very rudimentary explanation.

Why We Black Out

As I mentioned before the brain has both positive and negative processes. The fuel or energy for these processes is called Glutamate and GABA. Glutamate is the neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s positive processes.  GABA is the neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s negative processes. The plus/minus processes of Glutamate and GABA create the balance your brain needs.

But it’s Friday, and you’re thirsty. So you strap on your toga and you hit the town. Next thing you know you’re throwing back shots, cranking out keg stands that will whip a party into a frenzy and what the hell, you even shotgun a beer or eight. You see the funny thing about alcohol is that it potentiates GABA. So with a little added help from booze GABA becomes more abundant in your brain, and that offsets the balance your brain needs to function properly.

The area of your brain that is associated with short-term memory is called the hippocampus, and is normally fueled by the positive neurotransmitter Glutamate… but not tonight. Since GABA is in excess it overrides some of the functions of your hippocampus, affecting your ability to process memory. So when you wake up on a futon, naked, with a bunch of strangers you can blame it on your brain for not being balanced. No worries though, by the time you wake up and shake off your moral hangover your brain’s activity should have balanced itself back out.

 

 If you’re confused just remember your dashboard.

 

 That’s right, think of your dashboard and dials, specifically your temperature gauge. Think aboBalance is good! Don't over heat and don't get cold.ut it, you always want your temperature to be right in the middle of that gauge. If the pin moves too far towards The H (Heat) your car would over heat and not work. If the pin moves too far towards The C (Cold) your engine isn’t going to work properly either. You want that pin right in the middle, balanced.  So how does this relate back to social intelligence?

 

 

This idea of balance is important because it can be applied to your desired emotional state. It’s proven that the higher your emotions run, the more difficult it is to perform basic functions. Similarly if you don’t have enough emotional stimulation you can’t perform a task optimally either.  You want your emotions to be like the heat gauge on your car, in the middle range – not too hot and not too cold.  People who are emotionally and socially intelligent can control the flow of their emotions by thinking and priming their emotional state for what has happened and what might happen. Thw higher your emotions run the more difficult it is to control your impulses and that could lead to you doing something you might regret.  So next time you begin to feel your emotions starting to get the best of you take time to think and find your emotional balance. The lesson of balance is essential to the success and development of your emotional and social intelligence.

The History and Possibilities of Social Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is a phrase coined by Daniel Goleman, a Harvard University professor who specializes in the emerging field of Social Neuroscience. He has been at the forefront of emotional intelligence for many years now having published three groundbreaking books on the topic.  Here is a brief excerpt from an insightful book he wrote, it’s called Working with Emotional Intelligence.

 

“The rules for work are changing. We’re being judged by a new yard stick: not just by how smart we are, or by our training or experience, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other.”

 

Let’s look at business for example. Today’s market place is continually evolving.  As competition grows and the intelligence of the customer continues to expand, the end result is that people, not products, will be the deciding factor in successful business. At this point in the game every company out there has a product that is similar if not “better” than the others.  However, people are what differentiate a product in the market. People are what make the connection between companies and organizations. People help bridge the organizational gap and drive business.

 

 

EQ – The New Kid on the Block

 

Since the IQ test became common practice it has generally defined the intelligence of a person, but as it turns out, only in part. The funny thing about IQ is that it’s a static form of intelligence. That’s right, static. It remains the same over time.  In fact your IQ will more than likely remain the same well after your teen years.

 

I would like to introduce EQ – IQ’s emotional counterpart. It’s your emotional intelligence, and it is dynamic. You got it, dynamic. Your emotional intelligence is ever changing and always developing through out your life time.  It’s completely up to you how much you’re willing to develop your EQ.  There is no correlation between IQ and EQ.

 We've all seen the iceberg analogy.

Some of you might be wondering if there is a difference between men and women in EQ as women tend to be viewed as more “in touch” emotionally. Actually women and men are equal in terms of EQ because the strengths and weaknesses balance out: Women are more emotionally aware and men are more resilient to stress. Emotional Intelligence is how you handle yourself. Social Intelligence is how you handle yourself and others in social situations.

We’ve all seen the iceberg analogy.

 

 

 

Forecasting: our nation’s youth continue to get smarter and smarter; however their social skills are rapidly declining. One researcher commented that “Kids today just can’t take criticism.”  In our society we attribute a high IQ to automatic success. That is false. Not all geniuses succeed in life. It has been proven over and over again that the main determining factor in success is EQ, not IQ (though it should be noted that one must possess an adequate IQ). Emotional Intelligence is what can make the difference between an average performer and a superstar.  

My vision is that by making people cognizant to way they perceive and act they will gain a better understanding of themselves and in turn also gain a better understanding of the people they interact with.

What’s the Deal with Emotions?

I turned on EPSN this morning and the anchors were talking about the upcoming BCS National Champtionship Game and one anchor, Kirk Herbstreet, was talking about the role emotion will play in the game and how it could be the difference for victory.  Watch any sports show regarding a big game and the importance of emotion always comes up. This holds true far beyond the realm of sports. Emotions play a vital role in our day to day actions and often times they play a much larger role than we give them credit for.

As humans we are emotional beings.  With each living moment we wade in a sea of emotion. Sometimes the waters are calm, sometimes the waters toss about, and every so often the waters rise up like a tsunami wave and overtake you. However, one thing remains: there will always be water – there will always be emotion. I submit that most people can feel their emotions, but very few actually understand them, and even fewer understand the emotions of others. In most cases we cannot stop ourselves from feeling emotions, they just come. It’s what a person does once they’ve felt an emotion that can make all the difference.

In my last post I introduced the three very general parts of the brain: The old brain, the middle brain, and the new brain. These brains, respectively, were responsible for making decisions, emotion, and thought. Any time we are confronted with a stimuli these three brains work in concert to lead us to an action. The flow of this interaction often looks like this:

 Emotion –> Thought –> Action

Once you’ve felt  and acknowledge the emotion you’re feeling it is crucial that you take time to think. Most people fail to do this, and it can be the source of difficulties in their social interactions. You might think about why did I feel that emotion? What action should I take? How will my potential reaction affect me, how will it affect others? The truth is there are a million different questions you can ask yourself in relation to any given scenario, all that matters is that you think. Once you’ve thought and used the input of your emotions you can make a decision as to what you action may be. Pretty easy huh? This is a baby step into a much larger world.

When Your Emotions Get the Best of You…

I walked out of lunch at one of my favorite sushi restaurants and noticed a man holding package and ringing the doorbell to the UPS Store that was located next door. He was about 40 and looked like any suburban father would. He continued ringing the bell until it was quite clear that no one was going to answer. The UPS Store was closed and accidently left their “open” sign lit in the window. Then something happened. He slapped the side of the package he was holding and cursed out loud. I decided to slow my pace as I walked and watch this scene play out. Clearly this guy was feeling the emotion of anger, I mean he was really cheesed, and it was because he couldn’t mail his package. My guess he was so angry because it was important that it get mailed that day. I’ll never know, I was in no position to ask him, he might choke me.

He started his car and hit his steering wheel cursing up a storm, he was still very angry. The emotional flood gates were open. He then began reving up his engine. It was clear to me at this point his emotions were in control of his actions. He backed up really fast and began speeding down the street still cursing. He failed to notice that a woman was backing her car out of her parking spot down the way. Blinded by his emotions he realized this too late, slammed his breaks, and rear-ended her car. Luckily it wasn’t that bad. However he got out and started screaming at the lady. I felt privledged and somewhat sad to watch this entire situation play out. I noticed one thing though, as the emotions started to rush in he failed to think and figure out what action would be best to take give the changing circumstances of his situation. He went right from emotion to action, skipping thought, and he is paying for it now (more than likely in the form of his insurance).

I’ll end with this. Oprah said this to Liz Lemon on an episode of 30 Rock, “We’re not always in control of the emotions we feel, but we are always in control of the actions we can take.”

Three Brains are Better than One

To begin to understand how the human brain processes information during our daily interactions you have to break down the human brain so it’s nice and simple to understand.  I remember the first time I saw an actual human brain,  and the thing I remember most is that it looked nothing like the clean images and drawings from the text books. It actually looked like a grayish mess, but once we got to slicing and dicing it began to make sense of what was what. Our lesson today is nowhere near as complex, hopefully it’s more intriguing.

breaking down the brain

breaking down the brain

The Reptilian Brain

The reptilian brain is a very primitive organ. It’s called the reptilian brain because it has been around for over 450 million years and is actually still present in reptiles today. This is the first part of your brain to develop. The reptilian brain or the “old brain” is responsible for you unconscious processes. It controls things like heartbeat and breathing. Think about it, have you ever had to focus to make your heart beat, or to make yourself breath (assuming you’re not having a panic attack). Of course not, these things just happen and that’s thanks to your old brain. It’s been said that the old brain is primarily concerned with your survival. The most recent research has shown that the old brain plays a major roll decision making. The old brain actually decides “yes” or “no” in response to a situation or stimuli. Pretty neat stuff huh? We’ll expand more on the old brain at a later time.

The Middle Brain

Through human evolution we developed a brain on top of our first brain. This brain, the middle brain, is a little more complex than the first brain. From a social neuroscience perspective the middle brain is primarily concerned with emotional processing. Emotions are vital to understanding and communicating in social interactions and play a crucial role in our behaviors and actions.

The New Brain

The new brain is what makes our species so unique. No other animal has a brain like ours and that’s because of our new brain, also commonly referred to as the neo cortex. This brain is responsible for higher level thinking. It allows us to think in abstract and hypothetically as well as perform rational thought. Studies have shown that this part of the brain continues to grow and develop until the age of 24. This is what separates us from other animals and makes humans so unique.

Three Brains Become One

So lets tie this all together. The reptilian brain decides, the middle brain processes emotions, and the new brain thinks. When confronted with a stimuli all of these processes from your three brains work in concert to achieve an end result.  This is the process that your brain works when confronted with almost any situation. Of course you’re largely unaware of what’s going on, but social neuroscience aims to give you the understanding of how you perceive and communicate. The knowledge of the social perception process can make a big difference in understanding your actions and emotions. Now that we’ve laid something of a base I hope we can begin to really explore this dynamic process through some example interactions.

If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about I recomend picking up the book NEUROMARKETING written by Patrick Revoise & Christopher Morin. This book looks at how the brain makes decisions and the best way to communicate to the old brain. It’s a terrific read and much of this post was inspired by the book’s breakdown of the brain. Check out more at:http://www.salesbrain.net/users/folder.asp?FolderID=5622&gclid=CNzi8O-M6pcCFRlRagodkEOCDA Continue reading