Friday, April 15, 2011

My Fascination with the Brain - You Can't Manage What You Don't Understand

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I sometimes explain how the brain works related to certain human behaviors. I'm not trying to turn all my readers into brain scientists. I try to keep it simple, after all. I do this because you can't deal effectively with something you don't understand. And often the thing you're trying to deal with is actually something that's happening in the brain.

For example, learning is something that happens in the brain. Not in the muscles. Not in the bones. Not in the skin. In the brain. If you don't know how learning happens in the brain, then you don't fully understand how people learn. And if you're trying to coach, train or teach something, this lack of insight could keep you from being as effective as you want to be.

All behavior is triggered by brain activity, which means that behavior change has to involve changes in the brain. If you're trying to improve or change a behavior - yours or somebody else's - you're going to have a heck of a time if you don't know how this works - in the brain.

If you work with youth as a parent, mentor, teacher or coach, then you know that teenagers are different. Shortly after puberty, kids sometimes have strangely irrational episodes. Now you can joke about it or you can cry about it, but if you want to be a positive influence in a teenager's life, you should find out why they act this way. The answers have to do with what's going on in a kid's brain during adolescence.

As I said, all human behavior originates in the brain, whether it's a spontaneous emotional reaction or a well-reasoned decision. Whether you're driving a car or dealing with memory lapses, you'll do a whole lot better if you understand what attention is and what memory is - for real, in the brain.

So that's the source of my fascination. I've been studying cognitive neuroscience for about 25 years now. It's amazing what scientist have learned in that time, and there's still a lot they don't understand.

Meanwhile, I'll do my best to keep you posted - in plain English, of course.

About 50 of my blog posts include insights about the brain. If you're curious about some of these, click here.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use graphic purchased from

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