In the last couple of decades our understanding of our brain and – by extension – our own minds has grown by leaps and bounds. Now, a lot of fields have played their part but by far the greatest role has been played by neuroscience and the tools associated with it.
Through neuroscience we have finally begun to understand the inner working of our mind and as I speak the results of those findings are filtering back into our society, changing the way we look at ourselves and each other, as well as the way we live our lives.
In truth, there are far too many ways that neuroscience is changing our understanding of ourselves. By the proclivity of the science and its scientists tremendous advances in countless areas. So we’re forced to pick and choose.
Here are some of the ideas that I’ve chosen that stand out.
Multi-tasking is bad for you
It doesn’t feel that way. When you’re doing it you feel engaged, triggered and interested. Because it’s often hard to measure objective effectiveness, we instead replace it with cognitive busyness – assuming that one is a good proxy for the other.
It turns out that in terms of multitasking that couldn’t be further from the truth.
For while we think we’re multitasking, what we’re in fact doing is singletasking, even as we rapidly switch back between one and the other. And every time we do so we experience a cognitive load that has nothing to do with productivity. We just think it does.
The result? We believe we’re being productive when in fact we’re being a great deal less so. In fact, the neuroscience research has demonstrated that multitasking makes us stupider, both at the task at hand as well as overall. Yes, that’s right, multitasking would seem to kill brain cells.
The neuroscience of a good story
We all love a good story. In fact, you could go so far as to say that we’re a storytelling species. For a long time, that’s as far as we got. Now, however, we’re getting a much better idea of why we like stories as much as we do.
Neuroscience is showing us that it’s all about mirror neurons and empathy. Mirror neurons are the things in the front of our bran that fire when we see other people do things. What’s more, they cause the same regions of the brain to fire as would if we were doing the thing we’re seeing.
They seem to be the gateway to empathy.
And that’s not the only thing we’re learning about how the brain reacts to a story. The upside of this is that as we get a better understanding of how we process and understand stories, we get a better understanding of how a good story works. And that, in turn, is feeding back into our storytelling, creating more engaging stories that move us more than ever before.
Yup, that’s right. Hollywood and neuroscientists are walking hand in hand.
As we get an ever better understanding about our own brain, it can’t help but affect our learning. For example, neuroscience is changing our understanding of how we learn languages. For example, we now know that adults need far more repetition than children do and that both groups benefit far more if they’re actively engaged, through such ideas as gamification.
Even better, the old myth that we can’t learn anything as we get older has been thoroughly debunked. We can always keep learning. In fact, your brain desperately needs exercise in order to improve.
This has dramatically changed the way that most memory scientists suggest we should learn. The result? Such programs as Memrise and Duolingo are suddenly making it possible for people who never thought they could learn another language to gain two or three additional tongues.
A similar place where we’ve now got a much better understanding of what is going on is in the arena of habit. A lot of people look down on habits and yet they are an absolutely essential part of our being and understanding.
It is habit that makes it possible for us to drive cars while talking on the phone. It is habit that makes it possible for me to blind-type this article. And if we know how to utilize it correctly, habit can make our lives better, more productive and happier.
At the same time, we can have gambling habits, eating habits and a whole lot of other habits that are decidedly harmful. And neuroscience is giving us an ever better understanding of how both sets work. In this way we are getting better at knowing how to undermine bad habits and promote good habits.
Of course, the problem is that people might differ in that regard. For example, for a casino your gambling habit is good and they will do whatever they can to promote it, including using neuroscience. In this way, neuroscience might actually be impacting your life quite negatively.
In fact, that is an incredibly important point that many people are not quite aware of. Big companies are investing in neuroscience as well. And they’ve got a lot more money at their disposal than everyman does.
What that means is that neuroscience is impacting our lives in a lot more ways than most of us are aware. Marketing firms, big companies and advertising companies are constantly working to make their techniques more effective and their using neuroscience to do it.
They’re now pursuing long-term strategies that will actively change our brains, creating channels for them to make it easier to sell us things. That’s a scary thought. And the less we know, as the consumer, about how neuroscience works and how it is affecting us, the easier it will be for them to continue to pursue this path.
For that reason, make sure you’ve got a good understanding of what is going on, because if you don’t neuroscience might be affecting you in ways you hadn’t even imagined, including changing the way you live and even what you live for.