Organisational Change Management Volume 2

30. How the Brain Works

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. Applying understandings about how the brain works and interacts with others will increase your effectiveness at work, home, etc. This involves

i) self-awareness (knowing yourself and how to manage your brain so that you get the best out of it)

ii) mindfulness (involves being able to pause before action, ie it gives you the space of mind to consider the various options and choose the most suitable one)

iii) interoception (awareness of your internal world and its signals).

These are important elements in modifying your behaviour in change.

NB Changing one's behaviour is hard, eg only 1 in 9 people who underwent heart surgery changed their life-style. Yet these people had the ultimate motivation, ie possible death. Thus changing other people's behaviour is even harder and changing a group's behaviour is harder still!!!!

. This involves the fields of neuroscience or biopsychology. Neuroscience includes

- the study of how people get along by studying brain functioning and social psychology. It is the interaction of brains by exploring competition, co-operation, empathy, social pain, self-knowledge, etc.

- the study of anatomy & physiology of the brain & its integration with other disciplines, such as psychology (the study of the human mind & human behaviour). It involves understanding that the brain (the physical organ) works with the mind (the human consciousness that thinks, feels, acts, perceives, etc).

- bringing into focus the science behind the art of change management by recognising the importance of the brain and how it works

. Since 1990s neuroscience was made possible by studying imaging of blood flows & electrical impulses in the brain via Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI).

. It is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are extinct. The activity of our brain is the key to our survival. Remember that there are 1 hundred billion neurons in the brain. It is suggested that our "ability to use symbolic reasoning"is the pivotal element of our mind and survival. This has been described as our ability to fantasize, ie to see things that we do not possess. This is linked with our ability to use words and language.

. The brain is designed to

i) solve problems

ii) survive

iii) be in an unstable, out-door environment

iv) to work in nearly constant motion

. Importance of air (oxygen), water & food (glucose) for the brain

Daily we eat around 1 kg of food, drink around  3 kg of water and we breathe around 15 kg is of air. Thus air quality is very important. We need offices that are micro-designed right down to the chemical level. Circular sustainability is a concept in whcih buildings, like hotels,  are designed as living organisms with plants that transform food scraps and biological waste into energy and fertiliser for the kitchen gardens, which in turn supply the restaurant, ie new vegetables become new waste become new energy and new vegetables. Linked with this is the use of filtration to recycle water, which in turn finds a variety of uses. Creating algae blooms on glazing has the potential to be like a sunscreen on hot days and provide a potential energy source as biogas

- the brain is around 80% water and needs water

(NB Most unprocessed foods are around 70% water)

- need to keep glucose (energy) and water levels up to ensure that brain is functioning OK

- takes 15 minutes for glucose to go from stomach to brain

Fats and sugars
It is thought that we are hardwired to respond to fats and sugars, especially as they were rare foods in our early evolutionary times.  As a result, our brains became sensitised to detecting the presence of fats and sugars.  Owing to their value, our brain rewards their consumption with a powerful jolt of pleasure

The brain is energy-hungry, ie is 2% of the body weight but generates 20% of the body heat
but consumes
- 20% of the energy intake

- 60% of your blood glucose

- 20% of the oxygen intake
-NB executive function thinking is the most exhausting

. Lack of energy and/or water impacts adversely on executive functions, eg

- making poor decisions

- choosing impulsively

- being cranky

- struggling with problem solving/memory tasks

Three Elements of the Brain

. The brain has 3 key elements, ie

i. "Lizard brain"(it is like auro-pilot/automatic functions; controls your body's housekeeping functions like breathing, heart rate, sleeping, waking, etc; its functions revolve around 4Fs, ie fighting, feeding, fleeing and f...... - reproductive behaviour)

ii. Routine/habit functions , ie amygdala (controls past and current feeling/emotions of rage, fear, pleasure, etc); also contains the hippocampus (converts short-term memories into long-term forms), thalamus (the control tower for our senses)

iii. Cortex (human brain which is highly specialized for speech, vision and memory). In our evolution to adapt better to our environment we did not become stronger, we became smarter, ie what distinguishes us from other species is the prefrontal cortex (a specialized area just behind our forehead that is the most recent addition to the brain). This area governs our executive functions like problem solving, maintaining attention, inhibiting emotional impulses, thoughts, memories, creative thinking, etc..

"... It is where we hold thoughts that are not being generated from external sources or from senses..."

Amy Arnsten as quoted by David Rock, 2009

"...Your prefrontal cortex is the biological seat of your conscious interactions with the world..."

David Rock, 2009


NB The brain is energy-hungry, ie is 2% of the body weight but uses
- 20% of the energy intake
- 20% of the oxygen intake
- generates 20% of the body heat
NB executive function thinking is the most exhausting of the 3 functions


. When people learn something they are rewiring their brains, ie the physical structure of the neurons participating in the process change. They swell, sway and split; they break connections in one spot and form connections elsewhere

. The brain acts like a muscle. The more you use it, the larger and more complex it can become: use it or loss it!!!!!

. We are borne with some preset circuits controlling our basic functions like breathing, heartbeat, etc. This leaves other parts of our brain to develop based on experience. Despite a great deal of the structure and function of the brain being predictable, we are hardwired to be flexible with various parts of our brain developing at different rates in different people. No 2 people's brains store the same information in the same way. Thus learning results in physical changes in the brain; each change is unique to each individual. Consequently, human intellect is multi-faceted.

. The main development of the brain occurs before 20 years of age but fine-tuning continues all our lives, especially until mid 40s. Different parts of the brain develop at different times. For example, there is a great deal of brain connectivity activity when we are around 2 years and again in our teenage years.

. Conscious thinking involves deeply complex biological interactions in the brain amongst millions of neurons.

. Every time the brain works on an idea consciously, it uses up a measurable and limited resource. Think of conscious thinking is a precious resource to conserve. Some mental processes use a lot more energy than others; for example, prioritising, dealing with emails, etc are energy-intense activities and themselves need prioritising. Need to schedule the most attention-rich tasks when you are fresh and alert.

. Use the brain to interact with information rather than trying to store information, by writing things down and using visuals for complex ideas; schedule blocks of time for different modes of thinking

. In change contexts we need to know how the brain works in order to best handle change. Tiny changes in behaviour can generate substantially different outcomes.

"...subtle internal changes, which can happen within a fraction of a second and may not be noticeable to the outside world, can sometime change everything..."

David Rock, 2009

Diagram of the Brain

organisational development change management

What Different Parts of the Brain Do

Hippocampus handles our complex memories
Cerebellum stores procedural & motor learning
Amygdala handles fearful memories & emotion-based learning
Basal Ganglia deals with cognition, learning  &motor control
Frontal Lobe deals with working memory, abstract thought & some physical movement memories
Temporal Lobe handles recognition & autobiographical memory, language & auditory memory
Parietal Lobe deals with sensory learning & short term memory
Occipital Lobe handles vision & reading

Prefrontal Cortex

. It involves

- understanding (the information),

- deciding (if information is already in the brain or not),

- recalling (if information already in brain then finding it),

- memorising (storing new information and/or modifying held information)

- inhibiting (stopping distractions from recovering held information and storing new)

. This conscious mental activity significantly needs more metabolic resources, such as energy, than the automatic brain functions like breathing, heart beating, etc. and routine functions, ie doing familiar activities e.g. an experienced driver driving a car on known roads. That is why conscious mental activity is exhausting and you need to constantly recharge your energy supply (glucose) and oxygen. In fact we have limited resources for continuous use of our conscious mental activities. The more of these activities, the more difficult it is to do them as those first in the queue use most of the available resources. Thus the suggestion to try harder is futile as your resources to handle these activities are dwindling. This highlights the need to prioritise and to do the more important and difficult tasks first when adequate resources are available and the more routine tasks later. Remember that prioritizing is a very high-energy activity.

. The basal ganglia is the part of the brain that handles routine activities. As soon as any activity is repeated several times, it takes over. It functions beneath conscious awareness and is highly energy efficient when compared to the prefrontal cortex

. Its major limitation:

"...It has to have everything right or it doesn't function well..."

Amy Arnsten as quoted by David Rock, 2009

. When new information comes in to the brain, it tries to link this to the information already stored there. It will try to recall information already in the brain (memory), or if it is new information, it will try to memorise it. The latter uses more energy.

. It is very easy for the brain to be overwhelmed.

. The prefrontal cortex can handle several of these energy-hungry processes at once, ie short-term memory (inflow of visual and auditory information that will be held in storage for a short time) and long-term memory (which is reviewing data already held for comparison with new data). The latter involves recalling earlier memories, ie requires tracing back in time, recalling events in chronological order between now and when first formed. The further back a memory is, the more attention and energy required.

"...The brain likes to minimize energy usage because the brain developed at a time when metabolic resources were scarce..."

David Rock, 2009

It is very hard to change habits as they are engrained in the routine part of the brain. To change habits requires the executive function of the brain to be engaged. The brain will resist going there, ie it will require a greater effort & use more energy
Cognitive Ease/Law of Least Effort/Lazy Brain, ie the brain will choose the path of least resistance, like water flowing in a river. This partly explains why people prefer to spend more time thinking about the problem (things they have seen) than solutions (things they have not seen). Thus goal setting is so hard. Similaily, prioritising is hard as it involves imagining and then moving to concepts of which you have had little or no experience. Thus prioritising involves the following functions:

- understanding new ideas

- making decisions

- remembering

- not thinking about things until you have to

- learning to say no

- learning to delegate

- only starting to think about a task when all information is available

- inhibiting

. One way to reduce energy consumption in proiritising is to use visuals (pictures, metaphors, storytelling, etc as they all generate an image in the mind) when processing information. Visuals are useful for the following reasons

- high information-efficient constructs as they hold high amounts of information

- the brain has a long history of creating mental imagery involving objects, etc. This compares with the newer circuitry of language. Research has shown that language is considerably slower. At the same time, writing things down or recording them on a tape/diskrather than storing them in the brain saves energy.

. This means that

- we should schedule the most energy-consuming tasks first when mind is fresh and alert, eg early in the morning or after a break or exercise

- the brain is like a muscle that tires after use and needs a rest to recover

- it is best to schedule your activities around how the brain functions, rather than by topic eg more energy-demanding tasks get done first. Achieve this by blocking in the different types of work, eg creative work, routine work, deep thinking, etc

"...Your ability to make great decisions is a limited resource. Conserve this resource at every opportunity..."

David Rock, 2009

The less you hold in your mind at once the better. So simplify information by approximating and focusing on an idea via key elements New concepts take up more space in the mind/brain than known ideas

Memory declines when you try to hold more than 1 idea in the mind, ie prefrontal cortex. Even though the mind can hold up to 7 items at once depending upon complexity of the items, when trying to make a decision the optimum number to choose from is 2.

"...the fewer variables you have to hold in mind, the more effective you are at making decisions..."

David Rock, 2009

Whenever too much information is present need to group information into chunks and practise remembering information. It is easier to connect new ideas with existing ideas from the long-term memory.

It's not just the amount of information we need to process, it is also that we have to process information more quickly than before

If we repeat our thought, numbers, sequences, etc enough, the pattern becomes embedded in our longer-term memory

Working memory is either visuospatial or auditory, with the former being more efficient. Visual awareness works in a competitive way with each circuit competing to form the best internal representation of the external object. The brain is able to hold only one representation of the visual object at a time; you cannot see more than one at a time but you can switch between perceptions.

Only a limited number of concepts can be held in the mind. The fewer that are held at once the better. The ideal number is one.

Cognitive improvement is about simplifying and chunking information more effectively and efficiently. This involves the ability to simplify complicated ideas into their core elements.

By reducing complex ideas into a few concepts, it is easier for your brain and others to understand. When grouping information into chunks, the best chunks take fewer than 2 seconds to think about or repeat aloud. It is thought that it takes around 10 years of practice to develop sufficient chunks in any new field to achieve mastery.


. There are some limitations as the brain takes a lot of energy to operate and can only hold a limited amount of information. Thus the less you hold in your mind at one time, the better.

. When making choices, it is best to compare only 2; the brain can hold more than this but the efficiency of decision-making is reduced, ie accuracy and performance decline.

. If people's focus is split continuously (sometimes called continuous partial attention), the impact is constant and intense mental exhaustion results. For example, constant e-mailing and text messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test (it is 5 points for women and 15 points for men). The effect is similar to missing a night's sleep.

. Thus "always on"or "24/7"is not the most productive way to work as the brain is being forced to be alert too much and this increases the allostatic load, ie stress hormone and other factors relating to a sense of threat. Furthermore, this places unnecessary wear and tear on the brain as it is in a constant crisis of adrenalized fight-or-flight mechanism.

. Even though pushing yourself in the short term has some immediate benefits, it's counter-productive, especially on the working memory as it can hold limited amounts of data for immediate focus. It is thought that the most energy-intense items will be lost first and these are most likely the conceptual items in the cognitive function area.

. Some ways to handle this include converting more functions into routines, prioritising information and mixing up your attention functions, such as language, writing, visual, etc

i) converting more functions as routines ‐ practise specific activities repeatedly until they come embedded so that they are not managed by your prefrontal cortex, eg skills in driving a car become automatic after much practice). Once activities become routines, they are stored in the basal ganglia region of the brain (it recognises, stores and repeat patterns or maps that are readily available for use.)

Data moves along white matter connections to different parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is well-connected, while the amygdale has more limited connections to other regions:

"...The well-wired basal ganglia picks up patterns not only in physical movement, but also in light, sound, smell, language, events, ideas, emotions and in all other perceived stimuli..."

David Rock, 2009

Research has shown that only 3 repetitions of a routine is enough for it to be stored or hard-wired (longer term potentiation). The basal ganglia can pick up patterns without conscious awareness. It is highly efficient at executing patterns. In fact, the more you use a pattern, the less attention you will need to pay to doing this task and the more it will allow you to focus on other things.

Remember: you can switch attention between tasks, and for long-term memoryto form, close attention needs to have been paid to the information.

ii) prioritising information - there is a queue of decisions in the pre-frontal cortex for conscious mental processing. One decision may be holding up other decisions and can form a bottleneck. Thus if a thought keeps recurring, it can hold up other decisions.

"...Decisions that get caught in queues......are one of the great wasters of your brains resources..."

David Rock, 2009

There is a path of least resistance in decision making and thinking tasks. To help the brain, you need to prioritise your decision-making and thinking process, as much energy and effort can be wasted trying to reduce unresolved issues in the decision-making queue.

iii) mixing up your attention functions - schedule work according to the type of mental task required. For example, if you have several things to do at once, limit the time you spend on this. Consciously decide how long you will divide your attention on each item and then go back to focusing on the first one, eg deciding when to review your e-mails

Furthermore, new concepts take up more space than known ideas; memory starts to degrade when we try to hold more than one idea simultaneously; need to focus on pivotal elements of the information; group information into chunks whenever possible; work first on the most important, rather than easiest.

. It is important to be focused and pay attention for learning. The greater the focus and attention-paying, the more strongly the information is encoded and retained in the brain. This is linked with previous experience (memory) as it can guide us to what is important.

. There are 4 main behaviourial characteristics that are linked with attention (emotions, meaning, multi-tasking and timing)

i) Emotions

The stronger the emotions, the better remembered the event will be, ie it stays longer in our memories and is recalled with greater accuracy. It is linked with the prefrontal cortex (executive functions), cingulated gyrus (filtering function) and amygdala (creates and maintains emotions). The amygdale uses neurotransmitter dopamine which is released in an emotionally-charged event and this aids memory and information processing.

Emotionally-charged events are divided into 2 categories, ie those that everyone experiences identically and those that no 2 people experience the same. Usually the latter come from external stimuli and come directly from our evolutionary heritage; the response is based on the threat and energy usage. Emotional events from external stimuli are easier to handle.

The brain asks these types of questions when confronted, ie

- Can I eat it?

- Can it eat me?

- Can I mate with it?

- Will it mate with me?

- Have I seen it before?

- Was my previous reaction adequate?

Some of the best ways to trigger emotions like laughter, fear, happiness, nostalgia, etc is via stories, narratives, jokes, anecdotes, etc

ii) Meaning before detail

The brain remembers the emotional elements of an experience better than any other aspect. This emotional focus means that it is at the expense of peripheral details. In other words, we remember the generalized pictures of events or concepts but fail to recall the details.

Memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts. For example, words presented in a logical sequence are better remembered than words placed randomly, ie around 40% better.

"...Expert knowledge is not simply a list of facts and formulas that are relevant to their domain; instead, their knowledge is organised around core concepts of big ideas that guide their thinking about their domain..."

John Bransford as quoted by John Medina, 2009

iii) The brain cannot multi-task

The thinking part of the brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, ie one at a time. Thus we are able to task switch, ie change from one task to another, but not multi-task, ie do more than 1 task together. This can be time consuming and dangerous, eg using mobile phone while driving. The cell phone usage is a distraction that impairs driving, with the result that you are driving like you are drunk. Cell phone drivers are second slower to brake in an emergency, slower to return to normal speed and less cautious in their following distance behind another car.

On the other hand, we can do auto-tasks like walking and talking at the same time.

Research (Medina 2009) has shown that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task and makes more errors, ie 50%. This error rate can be reduced if you are familiar with the task.

iv) The brain needs a break

Too much information with not enough time to absorb it tires the brain. The brain needs break to digest information, especially if it is new.

You have seconds to get people's attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. The brain needs a break and/or alternative stimulation after 10 minutes.

The idea of giving the brain a break every 10 minutes is important for at least 3 reasons

- allows brain time to check the importance of the information

- the brain processes meanings before detail

- re-enforce message by repetition, ie the linkages between the 10 minute segments need to be clearly and repetitively explained.

In summary

. You can focus on only one conscious task at a time and need to reduce distractions and/or task switching

. Switching between tasks uses energy and can result in more mistakes. Also multi-conscious tasking will result in reduced accuracy and performance; best to do one at a time

. Multitasking is easiest when executing known, embedded routines

. Need to prioritise decisions and thinking processes to reduce the number of decisions required

. Combine active thinking tasks with automated, embedded routines

There are competing parts in the brain, eg

- conflict of thoughts (positive v negative)

- keeping a secret causes stress as one part of the brain wants to be socialiable and tell others but another part wants to keep the secret

- busyness (lower performance of pre-frontal cortex (thinking) but stimulates amygdala (emotions)) v status (feels good)

.As the brain likes certainty and favours novelty, need to be curious & show interest

. Moral rule of thumb, eg you shouldn't cheat, steal, torture people, push people to their deaths, etc. These are general rules that you don't need to think about, ie taken for granted (don't require activity from executive function of the brain)

More on Attention
  • Your mind develops depending upon how & what you focus on. If you change the narrative, if you are changing the brain. The mind can be shaped by experience, especially social interaction, when emotional feelings control your thoughts.
  • Attention is easily distracted. The main reason for this is the nervous system is continuously processing, reconfiguring and reconnecting the trillions of connections in your brain continuously (ambient neutral activity). A similar process occurs when we sleep. There is a stream of thoughts and images merging into conscious awareness but most of our thoughts never get much attention and disappear into the background. Research has shown that people on average hold a thought for only 10 seconds.
  • It has been found that when people are distracted by internal thoughts when doing difficult tasks, attention lapses and this reduces performance by activating the medial prefrontal cortex.
  • Distraction is usually a result of thinking about ourselves which activates the default network in the brain.

"...when you lose external focus, this default brain network activates and your attention goes to more internal signals, such as being more aware of something that may be bothering you..."

David Rock, 2009

. The prefrontal cortex takes up around 4% of the total brain volume and is central to conscious decision-making but the rest of the brain is bigger and stronger. Thus we need to strengthen the networks linking the prefrontal cortex with the rest of the brain.

. One theory suggests as a survival mechanism the brain has learnt to orient attention to anything unusual, novel, etc. The part of the brain involved in this is called anterior cirgulated cortex. Sometimes it is referred to as the error detection circuit as it is activated when you notice something contrary to what is expected, eg making a mistake or feeling pain. If this circuit is used too much, it brings a state of anxiety or fear.

"...This partly explains humanity's universal resistance to widespread change: big change has too much novelty..."

David Rock, 2009

. There is not enough glucose (energy) available for intense thinking, so you lose your train of thought. Some examples: you might be trying to hold too much information simultaneously, holding more than four concepts at once, too many decisions in the "queue", short-term memory is full, etc, so need to improve focus by inhibiting the wrong things from coming into focus. Thus we need to switch off all communication devices during any thinking work. Your brain prefers to focus on things right in front of you as it takes less effort.

"...Blocking out external distractions altogether, especially if you get a lot of them, seems to be one of the best strategies for improving mental performance..."

David Rock, 2009

. By focusing, people can inhibit their natural responses or impulses by activating the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. When you inhibit a response (motor, cognitive, emotional, etc), this area becomes active and acts as a brake on other areas of the brain that involve language, emotions, movement and memories. This is sometimes called self-control. Additionally, the more you activate the brake, the less effective it is, ie each time you stop yourself from doing something, the next impulse is harder to stop. This helps explain why dieting can be so hard and why, when you are tired, hungry or anxious, it's easier to make mistakes and harder to inhibit the wrong impulses.

. Inhibiting distractions is a core skill for staying focused. To avoid distractions, you need to develop the habit of vetoing behaviours early and quickly, before they take over. Language is also important: having explicit language to deploy gives you more veto power.

. Need to develop explicit language maps within the prefrontal cortex for experiences that were previously implicit, so that they are now controlled, ie explicit. We need to learn to inhibit impulses before they turn into action, eg speaking about ideas activates more circuits than merely thinking about them, which makes it easier to stay focused, ie the network is more robust.


  • A constant storm of electrical activity takes place in the brain
  • Distractions exhaust the prefrontal cortex's limited resources
  • Being "always on"(including being connected to others via technology) reduces effectiveness similarly to losing a night's sleep
  • Focus occurs partly through the inhibition of distractions
  • In addition, distractions consume too much energy because the braking system is part of the prefrontal cortex
  • Continual inhibiting reduces the effectiveness of more inhibiting. Need to short-circuit the inhibiting process.
  • Having explicit language for mental patterns gives a greater ability to stop patterns emerging early on, before they take over
  • Really effective focus requires removal of all external distractions completely
  • Reduce the likelihood of internal distractions by clearing your mind before embarking on difficult tasks
  • Improve your mental braking system by practising any type of braking, including physical acts like going for a walk.
  • Inhibit distractions early before they take on achieve momentum
Arousement (see common management errors)

. In the brain there is a constant shifting of arousal; some areas become busy, others go quiet. Blood, oxygen, nutrients and electrical activity pour into the brain to support its activities

. The full range of performance of the prefrontal cortex is

- too little arousal/stress (results in making a mistake or boredom)

- right level of arousal/stress (performs well)

- over arousal/stress (everything goes wrong)

"...The prefrontal cortex needs just the right level of arousal to make decisions or solve problems well..."

David Rock, 2009

  • Peak mental performance requires an apt level of stress, not minimal stress. It involves having intermediate levels of 2 important neurotransmitters, ie norepinepgrine and dopamine, which relate to alertness and interest. You can manipulate your levels of these two neurotransmitters to improve or adjust your alertness or interest.
  • Between neurons there is a small gap called a synapse. An electrical signal travels down a neuron cell body and is converted into a chemical signal at the synapse. There are receptors on both sides of the synapses that receive messages from these chemical signals. There are 2 types of signals, ie excitatory which tells the neuron to do more of something, or an inhibitory signal which tells it to do less of something. Synaptic firing is the electrical-to-chemical-to-electrical communication system. Trillions of ever-changing neurons are organised into networks through patterns of the neuronal firing. In the prefrontal cortex, the 2 neuro-chemicals (norepinepgrine or noradenrenaline and dopamine) are needed. Too much of these chemicals causes over-arousal and too little under-arousal. Noradenrenaline makes you intensely alert like when you are frightened. Remember: visualising a fearful activity can generate a similar metabolic response to actually doing it.

"...norepinepgrine is the chemistry of alertness, dopamine is the chemistry of interest..."

David Rock, 2009

. Dopamine levels rise when the orbital frontal cortex detects something new; humour is about creating unexpected connections. The more you repeat something, the less the dopamine buzz of novelty. It has been shown that expecting a positive event is perceived by the brain as a reward and generates dopamine. Rewards include food, sex, money and positive social interactions.

. It is better to use positive expectations or humour to generate arousal rather than fear.

. Over-arousal means that too much electrical activity is generated in the pre-frontal cortex. Reducing the volume and speed of information that is flowing through the mind or activating other large regions of the brain such as focusing your senses on sounds around you, in order to deactivate the prefrontal cortex, can be achieved by doing something physical like exercise.

. Too much arousal results in experiencing fear and anxiety but can be linked to excitement or lust. Sometimes dopamine is called the "drug of desire"but too much dopamine is exhausting!!!!

. There is a gender difference in the use of the two neuro-chemicals. Males generally prefer the increased arousal caused by doing things at the last minute; women prefer to get things done ahead of time.

. When the level of arousal is appropriate, one is described as being in the "flow"and has been described as one of the main drivers of human happiness.

  • Fear and urgency can generate a helpful level of focus at times but too much and/or for too long, can reduce performance
  • Increase adrenaline levels when needed by visualising mild fear; dopamine levels can be increased by changing perspective, using humour or expecting something positive. Levels of both these neurotransmitters can be reduced by activating other regions of the brain than the prefrontal cortex
  • Remember

"...real change happens when people see things they have not seen before..."

David Rock, 2009

. One of the best ways to achieve change is to have an insight. For this to occur, the brain needs to be quiet.

"...How, then, would you go about facilitating change? The impact of mental maps suggest that one way to start is by cultivating moments of insight. Large-scale behaviour change requires a large-scale change in mental maps. This in turn requires some kind of event or experience that allows people to devote themselves, in effect, to change attitudes and expectations more quickly and dramatically than they normally would..."

David Rock et al, 2006

. It has been found that a complex set of new connections is created at a moment of insight and this understanding has the potential to enhance our mental resources and overcome the brain's resistance to change, ie

"...sudden burst of high-frequency 40Hz oscillations (gamma waves) in the brain appearing just prior to moments of insight. This oscillation is conducive to creating links across many parts of the brain.......right anterior superior temporal gyrus being activated. This part of the brain is involved in perceiving and processing music, spatial and structural relations (such as those in a building or painting), and other complex aspects..."

David Rock et al, 2006

. Furthermore, when people have an "insight", immediately their facial expression changes, ie it appears to light up!!!!!!

  • The brain can get into a rut in its thinking: impasse phenomenon. The best way to handle this is to put the brain into neutral to reduce activation of the wrong responses. Do anything to reduce anxiety, such as have some fun, take a break, do something interesting, etc.
  • Having insights involves recognizing subtle signals and allowing loose connections to be made. This requires a quiet mind, with minimal electrical activity. Focus on connections between information rather than drilling down into a problem; look at patterns and links at a high level rather than focusing on detail. Simplify problems to their key features; allow yourself to reflect at a higher level; watch for the subtle connections preceding insight; stop and focus on insights when they occur
  • Insights occur more frequently, when we are relaxed and happy.
  • The right hemisphere of the brain is involved in connections between information (more than specific data) which contributes strongly to insight.
  • The novelty of an insight pushes up dopamine levels.
  • An activity can expand to fill the time available
  • Priming refers to our remembering words, concepts, etc that we have seen recently that can automatically influence our actions subconsciously.
  • To work with our brain, ie

- schedule work when it is easiest

- clear the mind to reduce amount of information stored

- reduce external distractions

- veto internal distractions

. Sometimes the pre-frontal cortex can restrict creative thinking. This is called an "impasse". Creativity involves getting past the impasse!!

. As more workers are now knowledge workers, required to put information together in a novel way, creativity is becoming more important. Most of the day, people are executing codified routines stored in the basal ganglia. When a new problem arises that needs creative thinking; initially the mind compares the problem with previous problems to find a solution. More people

" into brand-new problems, problems with no procedures to follow, no obvious answers, and where solutions from similar situations don't work..."

David Rock, 2009

. This requires an insight to handle the impasse.

"...The insight experience is characterized by a lack of logical progression to the solution......the solution comes to you suddenly and is surprising have a great deal of confidence in it......the brain is processing the problem below the level of conscious awareness......unconscious processing...... a possible strategy for increasing creativity..."

David Rock, 2009

. The application of prior experience, detailed thinking and being too familiar with the issue can limit creativity. But short-circuiting this reference to experience allows for creativity and the chance of an insight. You need to do something totally different and then return to the problem, ie a fresh approach.

. The part of the brain involved in insights is the right anterior temporal lobe. This is the area where "big picture thinking"occurs.

. Just before the insight, there is a sudden and prolonged increase in alpha band activity over the right occipital lobe (this processes visual information coming into the brain. At the same time, you need to decrease the focus on other parts of the brain for the insight to develop, ie you need cognitive control.

. There is a strong correlation between emotional states and insights. Increased happiness increases the chance of an insight, while increasing anxiety decreases the likelihood. When we feel anxious, there is too much activity in the brain to develop the insight. This shows the importance for fun and play in the work environment to increase the quality of ideas.

. It is instructive to know that just before an insight, the medial prefrontal cortex becomes active. This part of the default network works against insights as it increases awareness of your experiences.

"...people who have insights don't have better vision, they are not more determined to find a solution, they don't focus harder on the problem, and they are not necessarily geniuses..."

David Rock, 2009

. The people who have more insights are those who are more aware of their internal experiences, ie they observe their own thinking and can change how they think, ie have good cognitive control.

. ARIA framework for insight

A = Awareness (focus lightly on impasse, ie minimize focus of prefrontal cortex, eg simplify the problem)

R = Reflection (review your thinking process; keep way from detail ‐ take a big picture approach. Use the right hemisphere of the brain)

I = Insight (involves a burst of gamma band brain waves that shows that different parts of the brain are communicating. It brings on a rush of adrenaline and dopamine.)

A = Action (a short burst of energy results)

. Insights are about getting the prefrontal cortex out of the way and allowing other signals to be "heard". We have a unique capacity to create an internal representation of the outside world in your brain, eg networks or maps. There are 2 main sets of maps, ie

i) default network (involves medial prefrontal cortex, hippocampus ‐ memory region; it is involved in planning (goal-setting, strategizing, etc), dreaming and ruminating; sometimes it is called the narrative circuitry (you take in information from the outside world, filter though your experience and add interpretations)

ii) direct experience (involves insula ‐ relates to perceiving bodily sensations; anterior cingulated cortex ‐ central to detecting errors and switching attention; you are taking in the information at "face value", ie not thinking about it

. These two maps cannot work simultaneously. Direct experience helps us to collect more information which gives us more options; we are less imprisoned by the past, habits, expectations, etc, and more able to respond to events as they happen.

  • Using your brain to find large amounts of history and detail does not quieten the brain. A sense of peace ie low level of electrical activity is required to encourage learning. This allows people to notice subtle internal signals. Remember that anxiety makes people's views narrower and the brain noisier

. Insights happen when people think globally and widely, rather than focusing on the details

  • Another way to help people develop insights is to simplify a problem in as few words as possible. This helps reduce the load on the prefrontal cortex. Remember

"...real change happens when people see things they have not seen before..."

David Rock, 2009

One of the best ways to do this is to have an insight.

. Using questions about solutions, not problems, is a good way to shift attention/focus. An example around improving customer service would include

"...What is one thing you have done that has made a customer delighted in the past?

What did you do differently that made the customer happy?

What would it take for you to do this more often?..."

David Rock, 2009

These questions will help people arrive at their own insights and gets people focused on improving customer service.

. Helping people to develop insights by focusing on their own subtle internal thoughts, without getting into too much detail, is a better way of improving performance than providing feedback, etc.. This can include focusing on outcomes.

. Do not write things down insights

"...When you write down thoughts, your chances of having a flash of insight you need in order to come up with a solution are significantly impaired...... With a logic problem, asking people to explain themselves doesn't impair their ability to come up the answers. In some cases......It may help. But problems that require a flash of insight operate by different rules..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

"... It's the same......paralysis through analysis...... When you start becoming reflective about the process, it undermines your ability. You lose the flow. There are certain kinds of fluid, intuitive, non-verbal kinds of experience that are vulnerable to this process..."

Jonathan W Schooler as quoted in Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. As human beings we are capable of extraordinary leaps of insight and instinct but all these abilities are incredibly fragile.

. Remember: some problems require a logical, rational, conscious approach, ie focus on the mechanics and the process (a reductionist focus); while others require insights, ie holistic approach.

Summary on Insights

. For insights/brainwaves to occur

- the brain needs to be "quiet"(reduce electrical activity) beforehand by reflection, etc

- think big picture (don't focus too much on detail)

- humour is important

- need to increase positive emotions

- reduce anxiety as it makes people's views narrower and the brain noisier

- simplify a problem in as few words as possible, ie less is more (this helps reduce the load on the prefrontal cortex)

- encourage people to think about their own thinking better, ie to see things they have not seen before

Focus on Miminising Danger
  • The brain's overarching principle is to minimise danger (away from responses like anxiety, sadness & fear) and to maximise reward (toward responses like curiosity, happiness and contentment)). This is called the limbic response with the "away"response being stronger, faster and longer lasting than the "toward"response. Usually decisions are made before you are aware of them
  • As neuroscience tells us, a threat or fear will dominate our thinking and responses. For example, the anti-immigration fear that was successfully used in the populist politics of Brexit to secure a no vote and Donald Trump's election to the White House (2016). Also, people are looking for quick fixes and solutions like "stop the boats" or "build a wall". (Patrick Durkin, 2016b)
  • Need to reduce threats and increase rewards (interesting, pleasurable, important, etc). Reward response involves increased levels of good neuro-chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin & testosterone that lower stress, etc and reduce bad "ones"like cortisol
  • A primary threat can endanger your life and a primary reward like food, money, sex, etc. helps you survive and thrive.
  • The away response can reduce cognitive activity by making it harder to think about your thinking, making you more defensive and incorrectly classifying certain situations as threats
  • Need to be conscious of things that might increase the limbic system's arousal and find ways to reduce this as soon as possible, such as refocus attention on another stimulus, assigning words to emotional states, etc
  • Once emotional responses are activated, they are hard to suppress; using this makes it worse. Suppressing emotions reduces your memory of events significantly and makes other people feel uncomfortable.
  • Labelling an emotion does not necessarily make you feel better. Symbolic labelling can reduce the limbic system's arousal.
  • Emotional responses to thoughts, objects, people, events, etc are connected to a large brain network called the limbic system (amygdale, hippocampus, cingulated gyrus, orbital frontal cortex and insula; of these the amygdale and hippocampus are the most important; the latter is involved in memory around feelings (not facts) and is linking new experiences with ones from the past. It remembers if the experience was a "towards"or "away"response. The amygdale can be aroused in proportion to the strengths of an emotional response.
  • The limbic system drives your behaviour, often unconsciously. It helps you handle the infinite choices that you face all the time. Furthermore, it is more responsive to an away response like danger or fear than a towards response like lust. We are more likely to have a negative emotional downward spiral than a positive, uplifting spiral when the limbic system is activated.

"...Human beings walk towards, but run away..."

David Rock, 2009

. Everyone has a unique set of hot buttons that can set off a limbic response. Dangers can be real or imagined.

. A limbic response impairs brain functioning. It can give you a false sense of confidence about your ability and decision-making; it favours negative responses to situations.

. Furthermore, if the limbic response is over-aroused, especially the amygdale, it reduces resources (glucose and oxygen) available for the prefrontal cortex so that it does not function properly. It can cause us to make incorrect links, errors and misinterpret incoming data. It can make you us focus inwards unnecessarily.

. Attention blink (there is second to free your mind so that you can think of something new). This is a limitation in information processing.

. If over-arousal goes on too long, allostatic load increases. Thus your levels of cortisol and adrenaline are too high and we experience a permanent sense of threat and a low threshold for additional threats. Research is showing that this can kill existing neurons and restrict development of new ones, especially in the hippocampus which is important in forming memories. Thus you need to be able to regulate your emotions.

. Emotional regulation can be achieved by

- situation selection (you chose the situation)

- situation modification (you modify the situation)

- attention deployment (you decide where you are going to focus your attention)

This needs to be done before emotions kick in. Once emotions kick in, you have 3 options

i. express your emotions (let them come out)

ii. expressive suppression (hold back your feeling)

iii. cognitive change (think about your emotions differently by labeling (you put a label on your emotions) and/or reappraisal (changing the interpretation of an event)

. Generally if you try to suppress your emotions is very hard to disguise and has a negative impact, ie

- it impairs your memory of the event

- uses scarce cognitive resources that could be better used elsewhere

- it makes other people feel uncomfortable

Cognitive Change

. The arousal of the limbic response impairs prefrontal cortex's activity and vice versa. Switching between the 2 is called symbolic labeling (using words to label emotions reduces the activity in the limbic system and activates the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (involved in braking and inhibiting in the brain). Thus using a "few"words to express your emotions decreases the limbic response and does not increase arousal as is incorrectly assumed by many people. Remember that as open dialogue does increase arousal, you need to keep your expression of emotions to a few words !!!!!!

. People who use symbolic labeling find that more of their brain becomes part of the inhibition process. Thus they are able to "stay cool"under pressure, ie ability to stay in a high limbic state of arousal and still remain calm so that they can think clearly. Remember: stress is not necessarily bad, it is the way you handle it, ie

"...Successful people learn to harness deep stress and turn it into eustress, thus enhancing prefrontal cortex functioning..."

David Rock, 2009

Certainty and autonomy (feeling of control) are primary rewards or threats for the brain. The brain craves certainty, ie

"...a sense of uncertainity about the future and feeling out of control both generate strong limbic response..."

David Rock, 2009

. Labelling them is not enough to manage them. A better way is to reappraise by re-interpreting an event or reordering your values or normalising events or repositioning your perspective, create choice, etc.

. Your brain is a prediction machine with massive neuronal resources used to predict what will happen each moment by combining what it has seen//heard, etc before and what is happening now. The neo-cortex part of the brain primary function (foundation of intelligence) involves more than our 5 senses. It is estimated that there are around 40 environmental cues that you can consciously pay attention to at any one time. Subconsciously the number is more than 2 million,

NB the brain likes to know what is going on by recognizing patterns ‐ it likes to feel certain.

. There is a perception of control. The brain likes to feel that it is in control. In fact, choosing in some way to experience stress is less stressful than experiencing stress without a sense of choice or control. It is the pre-frontal cortex that determines whether we feel in control or not. Linked with this is having choices. Choice reduces the threats from autonomy and uncertainty. Even the smallest perception of choice reduces the impact the limbic system arousal. It goes to a toward state and this is easier to reflect on the situation. It is the perception of choice that matters to the brain.

. Perception works by coming to a quick conclusion and then filling in the details later. This quick conclusion can provide the framework for further exploring the matter. This is an important survival technique, eg when under threat, such as from a predator, with no time for detailed assessment, one needs to react quickly. Similarly when meeting someone for the first time, the first impression dominates.

. Encountering something new means arousal of uncertainty which the brain does not like, ie

"...doing something differently can bring about a negative spiral that can feel overwhelming..."

David Rock, 2009

. Emotional responses can be changed for the better, ie positive. Generally older persons are better at this than younger persons. Strategies for doing this re-appraising of experiences by involve re-interpreting, normalizing, re-labeling or re-ordering or re-configuring or re-positioning, etc and are a powerful way of managing internal stress caused by something new, different, uncertain, etc. Re-appraisal means increasing optimism, environmental mastery, positive relationships and life satisfaction.

. Re-appraising means having cognitive flexibility to see things from many angles. The brain uses this perceptions of events, things, etc

. It is better to re-appraise than suppress emotional responses.

. Having an explanation for an experience reduces uncertainty and increases the perception of control. This re-organising of the neurons uses much energy as it requires inhibiting your current way of thinking. To reduce this enenegy usage, get someone to help you re-appraise and/or practise it and/or use humour. Humour makes the cognitive process work more easily.

. The brain craves certainty so that it can control the limbic response. It likes to make predictions to handle uncertainty, etc

. There is an optimal level of arousal for decision-making & problem solving which allows you to think at several levels at once. However, over-arousal can "freeze"thinking, eg uncertainty about the future can create over-arousal, especially of the limbic system.

. Many of your idiosyncrasies come from the way the brain is built, ie when your limbic system is aroused, you can make unintentional mistakes and anxiety is increased. Consequently, re-appraise to dampen down the limbic response

Expectations are the experience of the brain paying attention to a possible reward or threat as it alters the data your brain perceives. It is common to fit incoming data into expectations and to ignore data that does not fit. You can create your own expectations of value, like setting a goal.
As expectations alter perceptions, you tend to see what you expect to see and not see what you are not expecting. Also, we can ignore data that is not linked to what we are expecting.
Unmet expectations can create threat responses.
Expectations become our reality, ie the brain does not distinguish between reality and perception. .

"...the right dose of expectation can be powerful as one of the strongest painkillers..."

David Rock, 2009

Expectations can change brain functioning; the right dose of expectations can be similar to a clinical dose of morphine; expectations activate dopamine circuitry (central for thinking and learning); exceeding expectations generates a strong increase in dopamine (neurotransmitter of desire) and reward response (including focus), while unmet expectation generates the reverse effect including a strong threat response like pain. When dopamine levels are too low, the number of connections per second in the brain falls.

The dynamic between expectations altering experiencing and impacting on dopamine levels, helps to generate an upward or downward spiral in the brain. This brings into focus the importance of a positive state of mind and setting expectations that are achievable. Expecting good outcomes generates a healthy level of dopamine and a sensation of feeling happy
Need to pay more attention to your own experience, including watching how expectations alter your state of mind and how excitement can get in the way of clear thinking.

"...For average emotional hits you can try labeling your emotions, which increases a sense of certainty and reduces limbic arousal. The stronger emotional hits you can reappraise, by changing your interpretation of events. This can increase both certainty and autonomy, while having a stronger dampening effect. And to help reduce future bursts of arousal, you can manage your expectations by being aware of what they are, and choosing new expectations in their place...... With these three techniques in hand ‐ or, rather, easily accessible as maps in your brain - you have a great chance of staying cool under pressure, even in the most difficult circumstances..."

David Rock, 2009

  • The brain is compromising all the time, ie one part of the brain wants to keep the secret while the other parts, eg social, wants to tell everybody
  • Being hungry and/or tired can have negative impacts on our prefrontal cortex and thus our thinking ability.
  • The unconscious is the most powerful part of the brain but we do not realise it. The unconscious is dominated by our experience and genes. The brain learns by experience.

The unconscious brain runs much of our life.  It makes decisions without awareness, especially if events demand a fast response, ie too quick for the conscious to become aware of what is happening.

If we practise something a lot, this can change a part of the brain where the activity will occur, ie go from software to the hardware.  Once it is hardwired, the brain becomes automated and energy efficient. Automation means we lose conscious access to it and have no memory of what happened, ie like auto-pilot. Examples of this are extreme activities like rockclimbing, free solo flying, etc. when doing these activities we are in the zone or flow state where we have no fear, no distraction, etc.. When are not consciously thinking, just doing.

It is thought that unconscious decision-making is based on our evolutionary experience; what is ingrained in us. For example, there is a strong emotional pull for instant gratification now, rather than long-term reward in the future.

The brain likes to be in energy-saving auto-pilot mode. It will stay in this mode until something different happens, ie it needs to make sense of, and react to, a situation that is unexpected.  The conscious brain is really the arbitrator of what you should do when something unexpected happens

Some examples of unconscious decision-making:
- holding a warm cup of coffee you are more likely to think about a favourable relationship with your mother than when holding a cold cup
- if you are smelling something bad, you are more likely to make harsh moral decisions
- if you are cleaning your hands, you are more likely to have conservative political opinions
Who we are depends on how genetic make up interacts with the environment. Research has shown that the structure of the brain can be influenced by environmental factors like culture, ideas, belief systems, etc. Thus a
a better word than "hardwired" is "livewired" as hardwired implies inflexibility which is not the case with the brain as it is very plastic.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
One of the challenges of AI is to jump the divide from lines of code, ie following instructions, to lines of thought, ie understanding. AI is currently about lines of code while the brain involves lines of thought.

The brain is made up of billions of individual cells, eg neurons, which on their own cannot achieve much but by interacting and integrating they perform amazing tasks like a colony of ants.

Social Brain

The brain is a social animal. Social connections such as a sense of status, etc., are as important as food, shelter and water for the brain. By experiencing others' emotions, we get to know each other, such as by sharing personal experiences.
Safe social connections with others are vital for the health and for good collaboration. Much work is required to create good collaboration as it is too easy to mis-read social cues and allow limbic responses to dominate. . Our memories of social interactions are vast. The social network involves the medial prefrontal cortex, the right and left ventrolateral cortex, the anterior cingulated cortex, insula and amygdale. The social network bias is something we are born with, ie new-born babies prefer a picture of a face. In our priorities of needs, social needs are on the same level for basic survival as food and water, ie threat and pain responses activate similar responses in the network as being ostracized. This challenges Maslow's hierarchy of needs which locates social needs in the middle. Social relatedness is, in fact, a primary need of the brain.

Importance of body language, especially facial expression, in developing relatedness. We need the visual interaction. The stronger the emotions, the greater the impact
There are "mirror neurons"that occur when someone does something you are familiar with, ie your brain mirrors others' behaviours after witnessing someone else's action. This activates the same circuits in your brain
Safe social connections with others are vital for health and for effective collaboration. Much work/interaction is required to create such refined collaboration as it is otherwise too easy to mis-read social cues and allow limbic responses to dominate

People are classified as friend or foe quickly (as with the reward or threat response); "foe"is the brain's default choice in the absence of positive cues. There are different brain circuits for handling friend or foe. "Friend"generates a "toward"emotional response which releases oxytocin (a pleasurable chemical). This explains why developing rapport with strangers can be important as it provides the chance to connect at a human level.
Deciding that someone is a foe or competitor results in your brain making accidental connections, misreading intent, becoming easily upset and discarding their good ideas.
Importance of quality & quantity of social connections - the brain thrives on quality social connections, ie happiness and performance increases with release of good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocins. Loneliness can increase risk of health issues like heart, etc. Loneliness generates a threat response
People who have effective, positive social networks (thus less threat) perform better, eg better thinking (including creativity, seeing others' points of view, etc), planning, controlling emotions, etc.

Verbalising an idea activates more parts of your brain (including memory and language regions and motor centres) than just thinking about it. This improves your learning, retention, etc.

Key point:

. Whenever you meet somebody new, endeavour to connect at a human level as soon as possible to reduce the threat response; share personal experience, stories, etc; actively encourage people to connect on a human level.


. A sense of fairness or unfairness is a correspondingly primary reward or threat. This again disputes Maslow's hierarchy concept as a sense of unfairness may be stronger than an empty stomach!!!
. Inequity aversion is so strong that people are willing to sacrifice personal gain to prevent another from receiving an inequitable better outcome.
. Increasing sense of fairness coincides with increased levels of dopamine, serotonin & oxytocin. This results in being more open to new ideas and a willingness to connect with others
. When we experience unfairness, the response goes to the part of the brain that experiences disgust, ie anterior insula
. Need to be open and transparent in dealings with people.
. Increase fairness by volunteering, regularly donating resources to the poor or under-privileged, etc. Brain analysis clearly shows a greater positive response when giving, rather than receiving.
. Balancing and linking fairness and expectations explains the delight we experience from the kindness of a stranger; this is greater as it is unexpected. On the other hand, there is intense negative emotion after betrayal by people close to you
. Concept of fairness is a key driver of behaviour
. Define an unfair situation by using labeling (put into words your feelings) or reappraisal (looking at the situation from different perspectives)
. Males are less likely to show empathy with someone who is in pain and who has been treated unfair; whereas females do
. Punishing unfair people can be rewarding, and not punishing unfairness can increase the feeling of unfairness
Need to be careful of fairness being linked to other issues such as certainty, autonomy and relatedness Status . There are many aspects to status. It is relative; there is no universal scale for status. It involves a sense of reward in feeling superior; this influences the way you interact with others
. It is a significant driver of behaviour and people pay a lot of attention to protecting and building their status. It operates at an individual or group level. The desire to protect and/or increase status has resulted in incredible feats of endurance and achievement, both good and bad. The response can be visceral and limbic, and generates activity in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulated cortex. The 5 different parts of the brain that experience physical pain are also activated by social pain, such as exclusion and/or rejection.
. If you feel that your status is at threat, the response (mostly limbic) will be strong, ie flight or fight. Remember: the limbic system, once aroused, makes accidental connections and thinks pessimistically. People will avoid taking responsibility; people don't like being wrong, they prefer to be right
. An improving sense of status activates the reward circuits, while a reducing sense of status activates threat circuitry.
. Need to be aware when other people's status is threatened; can reduce this threat by sharing your own mistakes, giving positive feedback, sharing your humanity, praising others, etc
. Need to understand your own status desires
. Just talking with a person of higher status generally activates a status threat.
. Seeking higher status can have a negative impact on other people


"...Shifting other people's attention from a threat state to focusing on what you want them to focus on is the central challenge to creating real change..."

David Rock, 2009

. Giving feedback, using problem-solving and providing solutions may not be the best way to help people improve their performance. As this involves locating negative things from your memory, they are perceived as threats. This also uses up limited (brain) resources, so that less are available to handle the next problem and thus more negative connections will increase, which further lowers our brain energy state.
. Another way is to use goal setting. It gets you focused, especially if a "towards goal"
Develop ways to make feedback valuable by rewarding people

Changing Behaviour

. Changing one's behaviour is hard, eg only around 10% of people who underwent heart surgery made major modifications to their life-style. Yet these people had the ultimate motivation, ie possible death. Changing other people's behaviour is even harder!!!!!! Changing a group's behaviour is harder still!!!!

. The "stick & carrot"approach is seen as a threat. It is better to use attention, ie when we focus on something, different maps across the brain start to work together; they copy one another, forming a pattern (can include an insight).

. While human change appears hard, the brain has unlimited plasticity & connectivity. Also, when cells fire together, they wire together (Hebb's Law). This re-enfored by the importance of repetition. To help this process, need to focus attention on sensory inputs (sight, sound, smell, etc) to strengthen, or start, neural connections and best to build on strong, in-place connections as harder to start with new connections

"...paying close attention to an idea, activity, or experience helps create networks in the brain that can stay with you, wired together, sometimes forever..."

David Rock, 2009

On the other hand, too much focus means that we can miss things that are not in the focus area but this state allows us to respond quickly to threats or opportunities to improve the chance of survival

  • Need to appreciate people's emotional states when you want to initiate or facilitate change; only try to influence people when they are in a suitable emotional state

. Attention should not appear as a threat. By focusing attention away from threats, you can create new connections with the right questions.

. Practise using solution-focused questions that focus people's attention directly on the specific circuits you want to activate. This is better than using the most common default approach to help others by just giving advice on 'what to do "or "what not to do"

. Some questions that may help include

"...If you stop and think more deeply here, do you think you know what you need to do to resolve this?

What quiet hunches do you have about a solution, deeper inside?

How close to a solution are you?

Which pathway to a solution would be best to follow here?..."

David Rock, 2009

These questions should help a person understand their own thinking, ie finds the gaps and raises their confidence (status)

Free will under challenge by neuroscience
This assumes that we can freely choose between right and wrong, eg Christian notion of righteousness or moral liberty (the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires). We can overcome our circumstances and genes to become the authors of our own destiny.

The concept of free will is one of the pillars of Western society and permeates many aspects of our lives like criminal law, welfare provisions, popular culture, etc. It assumes that no matter what your start in life is, you have the choice as to how you handle it.

Yet fields like neuroscience are challenging this belief. There is evidence to suggest that the ability to determine our fate is not free. It is based on biological inheritance and how our brains function. This has added to the debate on nature (genes) v nurture (environment).  The firing of neurons in our brain determines our thoughts, hopes, memories and dreams. Changes in brain chemistry can alter our behaviour, eg impact of drugs like alcohol, anti-depressants, etc. There have been cases of individuals developing brain tumours that have drastically changed their behaviour.

Research has shown that electrical impulses build up in the brain before the person consciously makes a decision
"...the conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on, a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurred after the brain has already set the action in think of ourselves as shaped by influences beyond our control..."
Stephen Cave, 2016

This type of approach has been used in court cases by defendants arguing that their brain made them do it!!!!!
This is sometimes called "determinism", ie we are not responsible for our actions and our decisions are part of an unbreakable chain of cause and effect.  Free will becomes a delusion.

Neuroscience suggests that the brain is more accurately described as a physical system, like the heart, which we have little control over, ie
"...human behaviour is one of neurons firing, causing other neurons to fire, causing our thoughts and deeds, in an unbroken chain which stretches back to our birth and beyond.  In principle, we are therefore completely predictable. If  we could understand any individual's brain architecture and chemistry well enough, we could, in theory, predict that individual's response to any given stimulus with 100% accuracy..."
Stephen Cave, 2016

Research has shown that people who believe less in free will are more likely to behave immorally, ie not responsible for their actions.  On the other hand, belief in free will is a better predictor of performance (job and academic) than traditional measures like work ethic, IQ, etc.  Furthermore, believers in free will are more likely to volunteer their services and/or give money to the community. Other studies have shown that a diminishing belief in free will increase stress, unhappiness and less commitment to relationships, less sense of life's meaningfulness, etc

Those believing less in free will are less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes and less grateful towards each other.
If free will is an illusion, this has large social and psychological consequences, ie people are not to be blamed for actions as they are beyond our control, etc. This will weaken our morals, our ethical standards, our ideals, our motivation and our sense of the meaningfulness of life. To stop bad behaviour we need to change the brain.

Decision-making (less is better than more)

. We are having to learn to live with

"...Situation where stakes were high, where things were moving quickly, and where participants have to make sense of a lot of confusing information in a very short time..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. In decision-making, the mind can adopt 1 of 2 different approaches, ie conscious (deliberate/analytical/ rational) or unconscious (instinctive/intuitive). The best decision-making involves a combination of the 2, ie

"...combine rational analysis with instinctive judgement..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. Conscious approach involves thinking logically & coming up with a definitive answer. In contrast, the unconscious operates quickly but without our realising it; it is instantaneous and spontaneous; it is based in instinct, ie experience. Sometimes it is called the adaptive unconscious and involves making very quick judgments based on little information

"...The adaptive unconscious does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner..."

Timothy D Wilson as quoted by Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. These 2 approaches operate in different parts of the brain and are motivated by a different part of your personality. Intuition is based on the experience of our senses, like visual, taste, etc; feelings, memories and imagination.

. There is a misconception that the quality of decision-making is directly related to the time and effort put into it, and the quality and quantity of information, ie more is better. Yet there are times, like under stress, when less is better. This helps us make good snap decisions and use first impressions. It can be a better way of making sense of the world, ie sometimes

"...decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. On the other hand, when under pressure to make split-second decisions, we are vulnerable to being influenced by stereotypes and prejudices, ie

"...We are often careless with our powers of rapid cognition. We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility......powers of rapid cognition seriously means that we have to acknowledge the subtle influences that can alter or undermine or bias the products of our unconscious......If we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2006

. We need to be able to take a complex situation and reduce it to its few key elements, ie

"...even the most complicated relationships and problems......have an identifiable underlying pattern...... picking up these sorts of patterns, less is more. Overloading decision-making with information......makes picking up the signature harder, not easier. To be a successful decision maker, you have to edit.....we do this process of editing unconsciously......if you are given too many choices, if you are forced to consider much more than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralysed. Snap judgements can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgements, we have to take steps to protect that frugality..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2006

"... Extra information isn't actually an advantage at all; that is, in fact, you need to know very little to find out the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon...... Extra information is more than useless. It's harmful. It confuses the issues..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2006

. In collecting data and information, the process can overwhelm you so that you drown in the data information, ie

"...You get too caught up in the production of information, you drown in the data..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. Our unconscious is a powerful force in decision-making but it is fallible as it is based on instinct. It needs to be controlled and educated. Like our conscious thinking, we are able to develop our rapid decision-making with training (repetition, practice, etc) and experience. It involves a lifetime of learning, understanding, observing and doing, and involves judgement.

. Thin slicing (refers to the ability of our unconscious to make accurate judgements based on experiences to evaluate patterns, situations, behaviours, etc when confronted by very narrow slices of information). Sometimes it is called having the "6th sense"; some people who were said to have it were brilliant military generals like Napoleon and Patton; billionaire investor George Soros.

From US research, some examples of thin slicing include

. John Gottman's work involves studying a few negative emotions can to predict whether a couple will stay together or not. The main negative emotions are defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt; with the last being the most important. If one or both partners are showing contempt, then the marriage is doomed.

"...Looks closely at indirect measures of how the couple is doing: that telling traces of emotion flickered across one person's face; the hint of stress picked up in the sweat glands of the palm; a sudden surge in heart rate; a subtle tone that creeps into an exchange..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. More work by John Gottman showed that a quick glance at an individual's private space or their belongings, like what is in the medicine cabinet, on the bookshelves, in their bedroom, in their laundry basket, what is hanging on their walls, etc will give you enough understanding to create an accurate opinion about the person's personality. You don't need reams of information and/or to meet them frequently.

. Nalimi Ambady's work has shown that the most important indicator of whether a doctor will be sued depends on how they talk to their patients, ie their tone of voice, not malpractice. It revolves around a matter of respect. The simplest way to communicate respect is through tone of voice.

"...if the surgeon's voice was judged to sound dominant, the surgeon tended to be in the sued group. If the voice sounded less dominant and more concerned, the surgeon tended to be in the non-sued group..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. Priming (this is a way for outside influences to have an impact on unconscious thinking without our knowing about it, ie what we have experienced will influence our unconscious thinking).

. Remember that wisdom and good judgment are gained through experience and create expertise. Often a sign of expertise is noticing what doesn't happen in a situation that is expected to happen in a normal situation, ie understanding the unexpected (the anomalies) that in hindsight make sense. It involves instantaneously and spontaneously finding patterns in the apparent chaos.

. Sometimes our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values, eg racial discrimination where our conscious attitudes are against racial discrimination while our unconscious attitudes state otherwise. Our body language can give a hint of this conflict, ie

"...leaning forward a little less, being a bit less expressive, maintaining less eye contact, standing a little farther away, smiling a lot less and stumbling over your words a bit more, laughing at jokes a bit less...", etc

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. Other parties will pick up on your body language, etc which could make them less confident/certain/ comfortable, etc. This can then feed on itself by creating a downward spiral so that everyone feels more and more negative about each other.

. Another example involves short people and tall people. Particularly in men, tall people trigger very positive unconscious associations. In addition to most CEOs in USA being white, they are taller than the average population, ie

"... In the US population, about 14.5% of all men are 6 foot or taller. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, the number is 58%. Even more striking, in the general American population, 3.9% of adult men are 6 foot two or taller. Among CEOs, almost a third were 6 foot two or taller..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

It is thought that being short is as much a handicap to corporate success as being a woman or non-white!!!!!

"... We have a sense of what a leader is supposed to look like, and that stereotype is so powerful that when somebody fits it, we simply become blinded to other considerations..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

Further research showed that an inch of height is worth $US 789 per year in salary!

. Need to understand the first impression a person creates can override additional information gathered. Remember that first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment. We can alter the way we think by changing the experiences that make up those impressions.



. The human brain can store around 3 terabytes of information but this is an insignificant amount when compared to all the information created every day (2.5 quintillion bytes per day) (Nate Siver, 2013). Thus the brain has to be selective in what it remembers and thus feeds biases.

. There are 2 types of memories, ie short-term and long-term. Within these 2 the brain has different types of memory systems; many operating semi-autonomous.

. People usually forget 90% of what they learn within 30 days and most of this occurs in the first few hours.

. Memories have different life-spans; with some lasting only a few minutes and others a life-time. The life span of memory can be increased by repeating the information in timed interval. The more repetition, the more likely the memory to persist and be remembered. In fact, "space-learning" is more effective than "massed learning".

. There is a difference between learning something and recalling it later.

. There are at least 2 sub-types of memory, ie one that involves conscious awareness (declarative memories) and ones that do not (non-declarative memories).

1. Short-term memory (working memory)

- It is a busy, temporary workplace.

- There are 4 components to working memory

i. Auditory (linguistic)

ii. Visual (images and spatial input)

iii. Executive (controlling function that keeps track of all activities in working memory)

iv. Episodic buffer (stories that might be heard)

NB All these share 2 characteristics, eg limited capacity and limited duration for holding information. This means that information will disappear unless transformed into more durable state. One way to do this is repetition.called consolidation.

- The brain can hold around 7 pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. To extend the information storage, you need to repeat the storage process. One way of doing this is to think or talk about an event immediately after it has occurred

- Memory involves 4 steps (encoding, storage, retrieval and forgetting).

. Encoding involves transforming an outside stimulus into the electrical language of the brain, ie an energy transfer. It describes what happens in the initial moment of learning when the brain first encounters the new information. There is automatic processing of incoming data.

There are 3 types of encoding, ie semantic, phonemic and structural

i. Semantic (paying attention to the definitions of words)

ii. Phonemic (comparison between sounds of words)

iii. Structural (visual inspection of shapes)

The type of encoding has an important impact on your ability to remember.

The common characteristics of encoding include

i) greater complexity means greater learning, ie the more meaning and personalized the encoded information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory

ii) new pathways can become permanent

It appears that a memory trace is stored in the same parts of the brain that perceive and process the initial input, ie

"...The neural pathways initially recruited to process new information end up being the permanent pathways the brain reuses to store information..."

John Medina, 2009

The cortex are involved in learning and permanent memory storage; with memories distributed all over the surface of the cortex, ie no central storage.

"...Many brain regions are involved in presenting even single inputs, and each region contributes something differently in the entire memory. Storage is a co-operative event..."

John Medina, 2009

Replicating the conditions for initial coding encourage retrieval - best strategy for retrieval is to mimic the conditions at initial coding. This can be responsive to mood, ie context-dependent or state dependent

NB In endeavouring to get information across to others, the introduction is vital. It must be compelling to get their attention.

Forgetting allows prioritising of events that are less important for our survival and these are released to give space to the more relevant.

In summary

"...information is remembered best when it is elaborate, meaningful and contextual..."

John Medina, 2009

This stresses the importance of real-world stories to complement information given and main learning points.

",,,Information is more readily processed if it can be immediately associated with information already present in the learner's brain. We compare the 2 inputs, look for similarities and differences as we encode the new information......providing examples makes the information more elaborative, more complex, better encoded, and therefore better learned..."

John Medina, 2009

2. Long-term memory

. Initially memories are flexible, labile, subject to amendment and a great risk of extinction. Sometimes memories stick, strengthen with time, become remarkably persistent, ie consolidation. Eventually they are infinitely retrievable and resistant to amendment.

. On the other hand, every time the story is retrieved has to re-start the consolidation.

. The way it is retrieved depends upon the type of information being sought and the length of time that has passed since the initial memory formed and/or was last retrieved.

. The retrieval system involves several parts of the brain, ie

i. cortex (which is linked with the medial temporal lobe)

ii. medial temporal lobe (includes the hippocampus ‐ part of the limbic response and helps shape the long-term character of many types of memories)

"...Neurons spring from the cortex and snake their way over to the lobe, allowing the hippocampus to listen in on what the cortex is receiving .Wires also erupt from the lobe and wriggle their way back to the cortex, returning the eavesdropping favour. This loop allows the hippocampus to issue orders to previously stimulated cortical regions while simultaneously gleaning information from them. It also allows us to form memories, and it plays a large recount,,,,,,stories..."

John Medina, 2009

. The relationship between these areas is characterized by sensory information coming into the hippocampus from the cortex and memories form in the cortex by way of the reverse connections. The activity between these 2 continues long after the initial communications. While the cortex and hippocampus are actively engaged, any memory is labile and can be amended. After a while the hippocampus ends its connection with the cortex based on the memory being fully consolidated in the cortex. This is a complex re-organisation of the brain's regions. This could take years and the final resting place is also the region that started the process.

. It is thought that over time the retrieval systems gradual switch from specific and detailed recall to more general and abstract recall.

. With new information, the brain tries to match it with already stored information. This allows for re-creation and can change the story. Thus newly encoded information can re-shape and change existing traces. This is most likely to occur when learning is given in consecutive, uninterrupted slabs. It is best to deliver information in deliberately spaced repetition cycles so that there is more chance to fix memory. This is a way of adding to the knowledge base rather than replacing or modifying it. The left inferior prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that becomes most active during retrieval.

"...Memory may not be fixed at the moment of learning, but repetition, doled out in specific timed internals, is the fixative.....Learning occurs best when new information is incorporated gradually into the memory store rather than when it is jammed in all at once..."

John Medina, 2009

Sleep (see more on sleep earlier in this volume)

. Sleep is important for the brain. We spend about 1/3 of our time asleep. The body possesses a series of internal biological clocks that are controlled by the brain. Part of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus is involved.

. The brain is in constant tension between wanting to sleep (homeostatic sleep drive ‐ maintains the duration and intensity of sleep) and wanting to keep awake (circadian arousal system ‐ the tendency and timing of the need to go to sleep). Linked with this is chronotype and the nap zone. Chronotype refers to when you are most alert, eg early chronotype (morning) and late chronotype (evening). Need to match individual preferences with work schedules.

. When asleep, the neurons of brain show vigorous rhythmical activity. The reasons for this are not fully understood but it is thought that it is working on memory.

. Different people need different amounts of sleep and when they prefer to get it. There are varying amounts of required sleep depending on an individual's state, eg age, gender, moods, etc. For example, teenage students have a temporary shift in sleep/awake patterns to favour late chronotypes. The asleep hormones, like melatone are at their maximum level in the teenage brain. As we age, we need less sleep

. There is a biological drive for an afternoon nap. It is felt that a long night's sleep plus a short afternoon nap is the most natural. The afternoon nap has been shown to provide a significant improvement in performance (including visual texture discrimination, motor adaptations and motoring sequencing)

. Loss of sleep hurts learning by impacting negatively on attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning and motor dexterity

Stress (see more on stress earlier in this volume)

. The impact of stress is very subjective and varies from person to person. What is an exciting event for one person can be very stressful for another. An aroused physiological state is characteristic of both stress and pleasure

. Traditionally, the body's defense system focused on handling an immediate response to a life-threatening event, such as an attack. This involves the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands as instructed by the hippocampus. The adrenal glands also release cortisol which returns the body to normalcy. Under stress your pulse races, your blood pressure rises and there is a massive release of energy

. Chronic stress dangerously deregulates a system made for short-term responses, ie a few seconds, not years. Continual stress from the workplace, home, etc results in hormones staying too long and doing some harm to the likes of your cardiovascular system, immune system, learning, cognitive thinking, executive functioning, etc

. Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause heart problems, and cortisol damages cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember. In severe cases, like catastrophic stress, it can close the system down. For example, the body guard to Princess Di cannot remember events a couple of hours either side of the accident. Similar types of things happen, like forgetfulness, depression (deregulation of the thought processes, including memory, language, quantitive reasoning, fluid intelligence, spatial perception, etc)

. There is a framework that suggests that there are systems that keep the brain and body stable by changing themselves (allostasis). The impact of stress depends upon the interaction between the outside world and our physiological made-up. The body's reaction to stress depends on the type of stress (its duration, severity, previous experience with similar types of stress, etc).

. Stressed and non-stressed brains perform differently. Stressed brains "turn off"and as a result learning, performance degenerates, the immune system is more susceptible, the chance of depression increases, etc.

. It is interesting to note that one of the best indicators of performance is emotional stability at home. Another indicator is balance at work between occupational stimulation and boredom.

. Individually the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the situation, ie you are helpless (learned helplessness). Linked with control is degree of predictability. On the other hand, there are situations like knowledge worker, where some uncertainty is a powerful motivator in seeking unique solutions

. Emotional stress has a huge impact on society as it can negatively impact learning, productivity, health, etc. There is a need for people to feel in control of their lives.

. The brain is impacted by stress. Some stress can increase performance temporarily; but long exposure is harmful. The memory of stressful experiences are recorded very promptly in the brain and can be recalled very quickly.

When under significant stress, like a life-threatening situation, the body reacts with extreme visual clarity, tunnel vision. In this situation, our mind drastically limits the range and amount of information that we have to deal with, ie

"... Sound and memory and broader social understanding are sacrificed in favour of heightened awareness of the threat...... senses narrowed: that narrowing allowed focus on the threat..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

Research (Malcolm Gladwell, 2005) has shown that the optimum state of arousal, ie the range in which stress improves performance, is when our heart rate is between 115 and 145 per minute. Over 145, the complex motor skills start to break down; at 175 we see an absolute breakdown of cognitive processing, ie the frontal brain shuts down and the "mammalian brain"takes over, vision becomes more restricted, behaviour becomes inappropriately aggressive, physiological control over non-essential activities ceases (like bowels emptying), blood is drawn from outer muscle layers and concentrated in core muscle mass (this makes the muscles as hard as possible to turn them into a kind of armour that limits bleeding in the event of injury). All this leaves us clumsy and helpless!!!!

Senses (sight, smell, feel, hearing, taste, etc)

. Information about an event is absorbed through our senses; translated into electrical signals that are disperse through-out the brain, then reconstructed and perceived as a whole event. It is thought that the different senses go through associations cortices, such as parietal, temporal and frontal lobes. They are bridges between the sensory regions and motor regions of the brain. Written information includes visual features that help speed up the transmitting of information to the brain. The senses support each other (multi-sensory). This speeds up the input of information and learning plus has physical benefits, such as muscles reacting more quickly, threshold for detecting stimulus improves, eyes react more quickly, etc. When touch is combined with the visual, recognition learning improves by around 30% compared with touch alone. The positive contributions of multi-sensory presentation are greater than the parts.

. If using sight and hearing, multi-media presentations impact on learning are

- multi-media principle (learn better from words and pictures than words alone)

- temporal contiguity principle (learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively)

- spatial contiguity principle (Learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each on the page or screen)

- coherence principle (learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included)

- modality principle (learn better from animation and on-screen text)

. As the brain relies on past experiences to decide how to record these signals, people can have differing perceptions of the same event.

. Our senses (thus learning) work best when the senses are working together.

. Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories. It is thought that smell signals bypass the thalamus and go straight to areas like the amygdala. However, smell is being usurped by vision as the more important sense. Around 60% of our smell-related genes are "disappearing"to make room for more relevant activities in the crowded brain.

. Vision is our most dominant sense and takes up around half of the brain's resources, with the brain instructing the eyes on what to see. This can result in some inaccuracy. Also, we can only hold 4 objects at a time in our working memory. The brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures.

. Vision is regarded as important in the cave man era as most of our threats were visual; this also applied to food supply and reproductive opportunity.

. Visual analysis has many steps (the retina assembles the photons into movie-like streams of information. The visual cortex processes these streams; some areas register motion, others register colour, etc. Finally we combine the information together so that we can see.

. We learn best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.

Gender (see more on gender earlier in this volume)

. Sex refers to biology and anatomy, while gender refers to social expectations. Gender differences can be divided into genetic, neuroanatomical (investigating large structures in the brain) and behavioural.

. There are gender differences in the brain, eg

- the front and prefrontal cortex (controls much of our decision-making ability) is fatter in females

- there are sex differences in the limbic system (controls our emotional life and mediates some types of learning)

- significant differences in the amygdale (controls the generation of emotions and the ability to remember them). It is much larger in males and they favour the right hemisphere

- brain cells communicate via bio-chemicals, such as serotonin (key to regulating emotions and moods) which males synthesize over 50% faster than females.

NB Research is continuing on how important these differences in size and neurotransmitters are.

. Behavioural differences in type and severity of psychiatric disorders include

- males are impacted more by schizophrenia than females

- females are more likely to get depressed than males

- males exhibit more anti-social behavior than females

- females have more anxiety

- most alcoholics and drug addicts are male

- most anorexics are female

- females recall more emotional autobiographical events more rapidly and with greater intensity than males

- under stress, females focus on nurturing their offspring, ie tend and befriend, while men tend to withdraw

- females tend to use both hemispheres when speaking and processing verbal information; males focus on 1

- females tend to have thicker cables connecting the hemispheres

- female students are verbally more sophisticated than males

- female students are better at verbal memory tasks, verbal fluency and speed of articulation

- when female teenagers communicate with each other, they lean in, maintain eye contact and do a lot of talking to cement their relationship; male students never do this. They prefer to do things together physically to maintain their relationship

NB Need to be ware of social context in all these comparisons

. There as 2 X chromosomes in the female while only 1 in the male. The X carries an unusually large percentage of genes involved in brain manufacture eg higher cognitive functions such as verbal skills, social behavior, certain types of intelligence, etc.

. Females are more complex genetically. The female's X chromosome carries around 1,500 genes compared to less than 100 in the male's Y chromosomes

. Men and women's brains are differently structured and biochemically. Men have bigger amygdale and produce serotonin faster. The significance of this in unknown.

. Males and females respond differently to acute stress. Females activate the left hemisphere's amygdale which remember the emotional details; while males use the right amygdale which get the general gist.


. As the brain developed from our caved-based environment, physical exercise is important. It has been estimated that we walked over 20 km per day in this environment.

. People who exercise perform better in cognitive ability like long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving tasks, etc.

. Exercise makes bones and muscles stronger, and improves your strength and balance; plus it

- improves cardiovascular fitness

- reduces the risk of heart-related disease and diabetes

- It regulates your appetite

- changes your blood lipid profile

- reduces the risk of many cancers and buffers against the impact of stress

. With exercise there is increased blood across the body tissues including the dentate gyrus (which is part of the hippocampus that is involved in memory formation and human recognition.

. The building of more blood vessels which increase food distribution (glucose, oxygen, etc) and removal of waste is enabled by exercise.

. Aerobic exercise is best. The level of fitness is not as important as the steady increase of oxygen supply to the brain

. Exercise regulates 3 neurotransmitters that are significant for mental health: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

. Exercise stimulates the most powerful growth factor of the brain called Brain Derived Neutotrophic Factor (BDNF) that aids the development of healthy tissue, including new cells for the brain (neurogenesis)


. The brain's appetite for energy is enormous, ie

"...The brain represents only about 2% of most people's body weight, yet it accounts for about 20% of the body's total energy usage..."

John Medina, 2009

. The human brain cannot simultaneously activate more than 2% of its neurons at any one time as the glucose supply cannot handle a greater usage. Also it generates much toxic waste. It needs much oxygen-soaked blood.

. As the brain is around 80% water, we need to keep water levels up. Remember thatmost unprocessed foods are around 70% water. On of the best ways to test if your body has an adequate water level is the colour of your urine, ie the darker the colour, the greater the need for a drink of water

. Need to keep glucose (energy) & water levels up to ensure that brain is functioning OK. Takes 15 minutes for glucose to go from stomach to brain

. Of the 3 main human requirements (food, drink and fresh air), humans can only lie for a couple of minutes without air; around a week without water; nearly a month without food.

. One of the challenges in change management is to get beyond these limbic response to the cognitive part of the brain so that a more rational response happens. But this requires more energy usage and the brain wants to save energy. Thus the brain would prefer to save energy and stay with limbic response and this helps explain the resistance to change.

Hormonal influences in social rules
The hormonal (neuropeptides) equation is at the mercy of rapidly evolving social roles.  For example, oxytocin (sometimes called the bliss hormone or cuddle chemical) that is produced during childbirth, breastfeeding and sex, drives the formation of attachments, relationships, bonding, resilience, trust, etc.. Oxytocin is promoted by bonding with people around you and has a beneficial impact on people's health and well-being, especially as it works in sync with the reward chemical dopamine.  Also oxytocin prevents alcohol from accessing specific sites in the brain that cause alcohol's intoxicating effects and can reduce the consumption of alcohol.

We need the right hormone balance to display behaviours like empathy and patience. On the other hand, stress (that can be caused by being over busy, over achieving, etc) with its driving hormones adrenaline, cortisol and oestrogens results in it being more difficult to get the bonding, etc that oxytocin provides.

In addition to oxytocin, other feel good hormones like serotonin, dopamine and progesterone are under threat when experiencing stress.

At the same time, male hormones, like testosterone, are falling victim to increased oestrogen levels as contained in pesticides, to genetically modified organisms, plastics, sulphates, artificial hormone, parabens, etc. Lower testosterone in men impacts libido, drive and ambition

"...the idea that bonding with another human - not with your job, smart phone or latest Apple device - promotes feel good hormones such as oxytocin is accepted science..."
Helen Hawkes, 2016

Changing social roles like the single person households (more isolation), sole focus on job, time pressure, tight economy, increased competition, less support, etc are threatening our hormonal balance, eg regular circumstances which encourage the production of stress-related hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, etc) rather than the bonding ones (oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, etc)

(source: John Medina, 2009; David Rock, 2009; Linda Ray, 2012)


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