Our brains evolved to cope with life as it was a hundred thousand years ago. Yet the pace of technological change has been so rapid in the last 150 years that we haven’t been able to properly adapt. Our brains still function much as they did when humans were hunting mammoth. So many features of our life today clash with how our brains work.
Here are 10 ways how our brain fails at Modern Life.
10) Artificial lights
We’re never far from an artificial light source these days. From the lights and lamps in our homes to the smartphones and tablets we carry everywhere with us. However, our brains are not programmed to cope with a constant availability of light.
We have a naturally occurring biological rhythm that governs our sleep/wake cycle and this circadian rhythm depends upon environmental signals. Such as light and dark.
A region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei controls the circadian rhythm partly by processing these environmental signals, so when it’s dark we get sleepy and when it’s light we wake up. When it’s dark our brains produce the hormone melatonin. Which is what makes us sleepy.
However, our brain can’t cope well with having a constant source of light. Studies with mice have found significant health risk associated with living in permanent brightness including osteoporotic and inflammation of the immune system.
Other studies have found that the disruption of our circadian rhythm may result not just in poor sleep habits but also in obesity diabetes and mood disorders such as depression which has been linked to the brain’s lower production of melatonin. Basically, our brain needs the dark.
9) Our brains can be easily rewired
Everything you do changes your Brain. Your brain is not a static organ. Its neural networks are constantly altering themselves to reflect your experiences and thoughts.
McGuire’s classic study on London cab drivers found that they have a larger hippocampus in their brains than regular people. Because the hippocampus is involved in navigation and spatial awareness.
Over time and through extensive practice the brains of the cab drivers were rewired. Most of us don’t need to practice such specialized navigational skills but we all now practice one particular skill. We all surf the Internet.
The most remarkable thing about the impact of the internet on brain activity is how fast it rewires our brains.
A study from 2007 showed dramatic changes in the brain activity of Internet novices after only five hours. psychologist Patricia Greenfield suggests that surfing the internet strengthens our visual-spatial skills but weakens our ability to process information more deeply.
This facet of modern life appears to be training our brain for scanning rather than deep or critical thinking and scanning is now a preferred mode of thought.
8) Loss Aversion
Loss aversion describes how we tend to feel the pain of loss much more than the pleasure of gain. To illustrate this with an example, in 2016 the Bank of Japan asked survey participants the following hypothetical question:
- if you invest seventy thousand pounds, I’ll offer you a bet on a coin toss. If it comes up heads you win 14 thousand pounds, if it comes up tails you lose seven thousand pounds. Should you take the bet?
Technically the expected return on such a bet is positive. Therefore it makes more logical sense to take the bet. However, eighty percent of respondents said they would refuse to take the bet, displaying strong loss aversion. We simply feel potential losses more than we do about the positive feelings from potential gains.
Studies have shown that the pain of loss is twice as great as the enjoyment of gain. Loss aversion can blind people to make the most of an opportunity and it is very hard to overcome as it is hardwired into our brain.
Loss aversion seems to be an emotional response rather than a rational one. Which means that it may be caused by greater activity in regions of the brain responsible for processing emotion such as the amygdala in the limbic system rather than the decision-making frontal cortex.
7) Open-plan offices
Do you know anyone who actually likes working in an open plan office? The idea behind this, moderately modern design is that workers can move around and talk to other people.
This is supposed to increase problem-solving and creative thinking. However, our brain finds all the background activity in an open office distracting and this hinders us from performing tasks with noisy phone calls and constant interruptions.
It’s hard to concentrate if our employers try to minimize visual distractions by demanding a clear desk with no personal decorations. This reduces concentration as workers cannot engage with their surroundings.
Studies have found that open-plan offices can result in a 15% drop in productivity and 32% drop in the well-being of workers.
Our brain is also about at hot-desking as we remember more information when we stay in one place rather than moving around frequently. Our environment provides cues for our memory and without those cues, our performance gets worse.
Online headlines are designed to provoke an emotional response to get the reader to click through to a story. But why do these clickbait headlines Work? The really effective ones target one of your primal emotions –fear – happiness – disgust – anger – surprise or sadness.
These emotions are generated in the limbic system which is an older more primitive part of your brain, where these emotions can trigger physiological responses such as an elevated heart rate, as we saw with loss aversion strong emotional responses have a significant effect on our behaviour.
So we click through to the story and as long as the article meets our expectations. We are rewarded with a hit of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Our brain loves chasing dopamine highs which we often get when finding out new information in an internet search which is how we can end up searching the internet for hours. However, if the articles we click through do not meet our expectations, we start to resist those clickbait headlines.
We start to experience disappointment which is represented in the brain by a decrease in dopamine activity. Yes, our online behaviour is shaped by a chemical fluctuation in the brain.
5) Task switching
Modern life involves a lot of multitasking. We might check our phones while having lunch with a friend or we can open an email while compiling a report of work.
The thing is multitasking is a myth we can’t-do more than one task simultaneously instead we task switch and we do it badly. Our brain just isn’t designed for tasks rapidly.
So every time we do it there is a cognitive cost. When we switched tasks our brain burns up oxygenated glucose which is the fuel we need to actually stay on task.
We soon end up feeling tired which means we can’t perform as well your brain can become overstimulated and trigger a fight-or-flight response. Producing the stress hormone cortisol which can lead to aggressive or impulsive behaviour.
Our brains constant search for a dopamine hit can produce bad brain habits rewarding the brain for its attention to distractions, which makes us more likely to lose focus on a task.
The prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, which means it pays extra attention whenever it processes something new. Our brain actually rewards us for getting distracted from a task and burning through brain fuel.
4) Emails = Danger
One of the common distractions of modern life is getting an email or text message. The beep of a notification provokes the feeling of surprise and our brain is designed to check out surprises to make sure they aren’t threats.
As surprise is one of the primary emotions in the limbic system, this urge to check the source is difficult to ignore.
The limbic system is in the midbrain which evolved before the frontal cortex, where most of our thinking and decision-making is done.
It’s connected to some of the automatic responses in our body. Hearing the B bone email notification is the modern equivalent of seeing a sabre-toothed tiger while you’re out fishing.
Fishing is no longer a priority, you have to deal with the potential danger in front of you. We get emails in the text more frequently than ancient humans encountered large predators.
So what’s the consequence of this extended state of fight-or-flight? The stress hormones released in the fight-or-flight response can reduce short-term memory, making it harder to learn, increasing the risk of heart disease and mental illness and lowering life expectancy.
3) The Rage Circuit
What happens when our brains’ threat detection system actually does assess something as being a threat? Some people get the rage.
Neurobiologist Douglas Fields calls it SNAPPING when normal people suddenly go berserk. Fields believe that our brain has evolved rage circuits in the hypothalamus region which governs defensive and aggressive behaviour.
Most of the time these circuits help us by allowing us to well react quickly to emergencies. For Example, when some doing an attack.
However, sometimes the aggressive response is inappropriate. For example, when someone has road rage there are certain triggers that might cause a person to snap which is rooted in how our brains developed a hundred thousand years ago.
These triggers include a threat to your territory, your group or your life. People have a lower threshold for triggering the rage circuits. when they are experiencing stress and modern life is very stressful.
2) Diets of fat and sugar
Foods which are high in fat or sugar stimulate the brains reward circuit. This is because thousands of years ago calorie dense foods were rare and humans could improve their odds of survival by eating as much of this kind of food as possible.
Even though we don’t need this instinct anymore, it’s still with us driving us towards sweets and pizza.
The brain responds to fatty or sugary food before we even put it in our mouths. Just seeing the food stimulates the reward circuit and once we take a bite our brain is flooded with dopamine.
If we frequently overeat, our brain is flooded with so much dopamine activity that it becomes desensitized to it and demands, even more, fat and sugar.
People may actually overeat to maintain the dopamine-fueled sense of well-being usually once extra calories are eaten the hormones leptin and insulin are produced to suppress dopamine and reduce the pleasure of food consumption.
However, the brain seems to stop responding to these hormones as fatty tissue increases allowing the brain to wallow in its dopamine haze.
1) Negativity Bias
In the modern world, we consume a lot of media, news, social media and political campaigns can often be really negative.
Negative stories in the media are often chosen over positive ones because the brain has a negativity bias. We pay more attention to the unpleasant news.
In Psychological studies, when the brain sees negative stimuli, there is a greater surge in electrical activity than if the brain sees positive or neutral stimuli.
Our attitudes are therefore more influenced by bad news than good news. This bias has probably evolved to keep us safe by avoiding danger.
Unfortunately, negativity bias is deployed in all parts of our lives. For example, researchers have found that most enduring relationships have a balance of positive and negative qualities.
However, this balance is not equal. The best ratio is 5:1. Five times as much positivity as negativity. That’s right it takes 5 times the number of positive things to outweigh one negative thing. People who experience a strong negativity bias can struggle with unhappiness, depression, and anxiety.
So it’s time to start searching for positive news stories as your brain floundered lately.
Do you know any other ways our brain fails at modern life? Let me know in the comment section down below. Also if you enjoyed this article, make sure to share and subscribe our newsletter. So you won’t miss out on our new articles.
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