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Why your brain Can't Stop Creating Problems

Very often in life, we seem to think that we’ve been able to deal with certain issues and have fixed them but no matter how hard we try to escape these issues, they seem to be hovering in the background. The reason for problems in life seem to stick around obstinately is because of the way the brain is wired. When something becomes rare or ceases to exist the brain has a tendency to exacerbate the issue and something that we thought was over is now ‘in your face’ more than ever.

This quirk of the brain can be compared to vigilantes in the neighborhood who tend to alert the police whenever they perceive danger or suspicious activity. When a new volunteer joins he tends to be even more alert to serious crimes like burglary and assault and because of this vigilance, the problems become less. So the natural step would be for the volunteer to be a little more relaxed now that the crime has decreased but instead it is generally the other way around. Things which did not seem suspicious before, like jaywalking or loitering have now taken on a different hue.

‘Concept creeps’ or ‘moving goalposts’ is the term given to problems that stick because people keep redefining their views about these. To understand how concepts change, a study was carried out by the authors of the original article which appeared in The Conversation.

Volunteers were brought into the laboratory and given a simple task of looking at a series of computer-generated faces to identify the ones which seemed ‘threatening.’ The faces which had been meticulously designed by researchers ranged from harmless to very intimidating.

Over a period of time, the intimidating faces were removed and faces which were previously identified as being harmless by volunteers began to take on threatening hues. The inconsistency in the results showed that there were some grey areas when judging the threat.

Another experiment was carried out by the same group which asked people to identify whether the colored dots on a screen were purple or blue. When the blue dots started becoming rare participants started identifying dots that were slightly purple as blue. To try and maintain a level of consistency a cash prize was offered to the participants who were told that the blue dots were going to become rare. Despite this, they still continued to point out the wrong color which proved to the research team that the mind wasn’t entirely under their conscious control.

After analyzing the results of both tests the researchers decided to go a step further and remove the visual concepts. Volunteers were then presented with different scientific studies which they had to read and judge as being ethical or unethical.

The researchers were a bit skeptical with this test as they felt the inconsistencies would not exist when presented with a moral judgment. If you had identified something as being ethically wrong today there was little chance of you changing your opinion about the same situation tomorrow.

To their surprise, however, they were proved wrong. The same pattern was noticed when the unethical studies become rarer. When people did not have enough matter to read about unethical practices they become harsher in their judgments of what they previously thought was ethical.

Researchers from neuroscience and cognitive psychology advocate that people begin to expand their opinions about the threat because of the manner in which the brain processes this information. The brain tends to compare what is front to a recent context. So a face that was perceived as less threatening previously would suddenly appear threatening if the other faces that have been recently viewed are a little milder.

This means that the brain tends to use relative comparisons in many situations and uses less energy in these scenarios. These relative comparisons often provide enough information for us to perceive something that may not be the way it is as the brains use as little effort as possible.

So the next time someone is on a neighborhood watch they should probably list out things that they see as an offense so that over a period of time they do not randomly point out something as being suspicious.
Why your brain Can't Stop Creating Problems Why your brain Can't Stop Creating Problems Reviewed by Tim on March 20, 2019 Rating: 5

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