Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Manipulating the unconscious behavior of persons with impaired frontal and prefrontal lobes

We're learning more about how the conscious and unconscious minds interact in adults with intact frontal lobe functions:

Gordon's Notes: The way we think: reason as an afterthought

... Schaller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, has done research showing that when self-protective instincts are primed — simply by turning down the lights in a room, for instance — white people who are normally tolerant become unconsciously more likely to detect hostility in the faces of black men with neutral expressions.

“Sometimes nonconscious effects can be bigger in sheer magnitude than conscious ones,” Dr. Schaller said, “because we can’t moderate stuff we don’t have conscious access to, and the goal stays active.”

..Using subtle cues for self-improvement is something like trying to tickle yourself, Dr. Bargh said: priming doesn’t work if you’re aware of it. Manipulating others, while possible, is dicey. “We know that as soon as people feel they’re being manipulated, they do the opposite; it backfires,” he said...

Really, it's amazing we do as well as we do. Our mind seems a pretty thin veneer on a heck of a lot of evolutionary programming. I am reasonably certain, however, that self-awareness varies from person to person. In other words, consciousness, like strength, speed, and wit, is a variable....

This has implications for helping people who have impaired frontal lobe functions, including untrapped impulsivity and explosiveness. We may infer that these people act are strongly affected by environmental cues they do not recognize, and that they are unable to alter the unconscious response to those cues.

Perhaps if we monitor patterns of aggression, or of positive emotions, we can begin to correlate these with environmental cues, and adjust the environment accordingly. Smell, wall coloring, tactile triggers, and room lighting might be important, for example. With some study we might be able to build a library of factors known to alter unconscious behavior, and then deliberately modify these in the home and school environment.

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