13 December 2012

What Makes the “Computer Brain” Impaired?

In an earlier post (A Bird and aComputer in the Brain (Two Systems of Thinking)) I’ve described the generally accepted view on how people make judgments. In scientific terms it is called the “dual-system” view on judgment. I have used the metaphor of “Bird” and “Computer” brains.

One key learning of this dual-system theory is that the default way of thinking is the “Bird brain” (or system 1). Another key learning is that the “Computer brain” sometimes switches on and interacts with the “Bird brain”.

A lot of research has been done on how System 1 or “The Bird Brain” makes judgments and in order to make sure that the “computer brain” (system 2) does not switch on, several manipulations have been used. In this post I will review what makes the “computer brain” not switch on.

For the more critical readers I will mention that these manipulations do not necessarily lead to a complete impairment of the “computer brain”, but rather they make it much more likely that the “computer brain” does not switch on.
Firs we have Ego Depletion which represents a state of lack of self-control resources. Ego Depletion occurs when a person has performed an activity that comes somehow “unnatural” to the individual and that has required self-control. I have addressed Ego Depletion in Don't Spend the Rent Money onShoes - Self-Control and Ego-Depletion 

Second we have Cognitive Overload which represents a state in which a person’s working memory is overloaded or blocked. As you may know working memory plays a big role in judgment, but has a limited capacity. If the working memory is occupied then judgment is affected by a switch off of the computer brain.  In academic research experiments the overloading of working memory is done by asking participants to remember a 7-9 digits number for the duration of the experiment. Apparently this manipulation has little to do with real life, but it is not exactly so. Indeed the instances in which a person does something while at the same time remembering a 9 digits number are very unlikely. At the same time, our working memory is flooded with information such as remembering meetings, remembering to pick up groceries on the way, an abundance of advertising messages and so on. My opinion is that the experimental manipulation used in research is a simplified version of what is happening in the real world.

Third we have Fatigue which I assume you all know what it meas. Fatigue is in many ways similar to Ego Depletion in the sense that the human body and brain lack metabolic energy resources which leads to a switching off of the “Computer brain”.

Fourth we have Visceral Influences or Hot states which have been described in Would you pay 1000 Euros for a Kebab? – Visceral influences. In essence a visceral influence represents an acute state of a basic need. For example extreme hunger, thirst and severe pain are visceral states. Another kind of visceral influence is the deprivation of a substance to which one is addicted. Extreme fatigue and sexual arousal are also included in this category, but I treat them somehow separately. A person that is in a “Hot state” will focus on satisfying the visceral need and the person’s “computer brain” will very likely not switch on.

Fifth, there is Time pressure which implies that a person has to make a judgment or choice in a very short time interval. Since the “computer brain” is inherently slow, time pressure leads to judgments being made using primarily the “bird brain” which is inherently fast. A relatively reliable “rule of thumb” is that the more severe the time pressure the less likely it is that the “computer brain” will switch on.

Sixth, we have Sexual priming. Sexual arousal is considered to be a visceral influence or a hot state. Sexual priming means the conscious or unconscious exposure to sex related cues. Several studies have shown that exposure to objects or information related to sex leads to judgment and decisions more related with “Bird brain” reasoning than with “computer brain” reasoning. Since mating is a basic need and evolution has shaped us to satisfy it, it is reasonable to say that once exposed to a sexual cue a person is more likely to function mostly on the “bird brain” mode and that the “computer brain” will be less likely to switch on.

Seventh, we have Alcohol intoxication. I assume that everyone knows what alcohol intoxication means and I think it would be a safe assumption to say that (almost) all of my readers have experienced it… In essence alcohol intoxication diminishes self-control and depending on the extent of intoxication diminishes or event impairs the “computer brain”.  

Eighth, we have Positive mood. Again I assume that everyone knows what positive mood means. What is in my view very interesting is that a positive mood induces what is called in scientific terms “cognitive ease”. In more simple language this state of “cognitive ease” would be called mental laziness. In essence “cognitive ease” leads to a lack of critical thinking which is by its nature a mental process associated with the “computer brain”. To put this in other words, when we are in a positive mood we tend to think less critically and analytically.

To sum up, there are certain states or elements that lead to a decreased likelihood that the “computer brain” will switch on. These are: (1) ego depletion; (2) Cognitive Overload; (3) Fatigue; (4) Visceral Influences or Hot states; (5) Time pressure; (6) Sexual priming; (7) Alcohol intoxication; (8) Positive mood. The list is open for suggestions or reminders…

Like it?  Spice Up  Your Business

No comments: