First – This Business Insider webpage summarizes many of the amazing understanding about our brain function that I have been reading about lately.
I’m reading the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. I love the flow of the book and the scientific/biological explanations of why we do the things we do and how the brain works on the subconscious level. The book describes why it’s natural for our brains to become addicted to gambling (investing in stocks), why we do not keep track of money we spend on credit cards, how we fall prey to merchandise discounts, etc. I think everyone should read this book before graduating high school, and again every 5 years to refresh our defenses against such scams.
One of the stories in the book is about a young woman named Mary, who made very responsible decisions most of her life. While attending an Ivy League university, Mary’s behavior changed dramatically and she started partying, and acting very impulsively. Eventually she was diagnosed with tumor on the pituitary gland in the prefrontal cortex which caused the change in her behavior.
Reading this book reminds me of a Radiolab episode where a man had a tumor removed which resulted in a loss of emotions that nearly inhibits his ability to make a decision. It’s a riveting description of how necessary emotion is. And the book, How We Decide, balances how too much emotion is equally dangerous.
If our behavior can be changed that dramatically by a tumor in a specific part of the brain, then it’s clear to me that everything about our behavior is controlled by the sections of our brain which are more or less developed. So in a sense, it’s all my brain’s fault.
I wonder if this way of thinking might actually help people improve or achieve a certain type of behavior. If my brain is set up so that it’s naturally more difficult to resist temptation, like Mary’s tumor ridden brain, then I have to work harder to make more rational decisions. Sure it’s not fair to have to work harder, but it’s just a fact of life based on the science and the special circumstances of my brain. It’s not because I’m not as strong-willed or as good as other people. Although, some people will think that because it’s a natural characteristic of their brain, they shouldn’t have to work harder to overcome that issue.
Here is a link to read or listen to an interview with the author on Fresh Air’s NPR radio program.