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The ‘smart,’ hence lazy, brain!


I have always wondered about the reasons people display a marked "confirmation bias" and the flip side, "cognitive dissonance?" Both of these tend to create much strife in people’s lives – sometimes leading to disruptions in relationships, and maybe even in a person leading a truly fulfilled life.


As with other aspects, these traits are seen very easily in others – and most not aware about their own behaviour. Like one cannot see the back of their own head in 3D, another has to give honest feedback. And after receiving feedback appropriately, one can maybe make a beginning with introspecting and reflecting on one’s own attitude, behaviour and all that lies under that.


I have been pondering a while now on the reason for confirmation biases and cognitive dissonance. I introspected upon my own behaviour. I have been reading and acquiring knowledge and information on the neurological underpinnings of human behaviour. And with what I have gathered so far, I find that there is most likely a neurological twist – that both confirmation biases and cognitive dissonance occur because the brain is most energy-hungry (and hence energy-efficient too.)


What is confirmation bias? When one would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views, beliefs and hence, biases and prejudices they would like to be true. It is almost like fitting the data and the steps in solving the equation to fit the answer that they have chosen to believe is the right answer.


What is cognitive dissonance? The introduction piece in Wikipedia sums it up thus: “In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.”


So, a confirmation bias might be the way a person handles the cognitive dissonance that they experience! And the innate “laziness” of the brain might be the reason for both!


The brain and its energy consumption


The brain consumes up to 1/3rd of the fat consumed and between 1/5th to 1/4th of the blood sugar. Yes! The human brain consumes up to 20% of the energy used by the entire human body which is more than any other single organ. The brain represents only 2% of body weight yet it receives 15% of the cardiac output and 20% of the total body oxygen consumption.


Since the brain is probably the most energy-hungry part of the body, it does ONLY as much work as is absolutely needed – yes, the brain is lazy because when it works, it works very hard! A little like the fact that a lion uses almost 18 to 20 hours of a day, sleeping – a slightly different version from what we are used to referring to as a “catnap!” And yet, the lion is amongst the strongest animals on the planet!


And let’s get some technical, neuroscience in – because neurology (ergo neuroscience) has everything to do with how a person behaves in any given circumstance. And so it becomes important to know what goes on within oneself, and also within others, in any interaction. This forms the basis of all human behavioural understanding!


Disclaimer: There is much data available on this and this article is not a treatise on neurogenesis. Far greater minds and more knowledgeable persons have done enough work in this area. And after all that work and research, they still say that this is a “nascent” field yet! There is so much more to be learnt about the “inner” universe, as there is about the external universe. And I stand on the shoulders of giants, with profound thanks to them, to even have the courage to write this article!


Neurogenesis

When does neurogenesis (creation of new neurons or brain cells) begin? It begins with the development of the embryo into a foetus and then into a child that is ready to be born. And contrary to what was earlier thought to be true, the process of creating new neurons happens right through life. The brain is found to be more malleable than previously thought – and the term now is “Neuroplasticity!”