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Mysteries of the mind
Your unconscious is making your everyday decisions
By Marianne Szegedy-Maszak ... 8think.htm
U.S. News & World Report, 2/28/05

The snap judgment. The song that constantly runs through your head
whenever you close your office door. The desire to drink Coke
rather than Pepsi or to drive a Mustang rather than a Prius. The
expression on your spouse's face that inexplicably makes you feel
either amorous or enraged. Or how about the now incomprehensible
reasons you married your spouse in the first place?
Welcome to evidence of your robust unconscious at work.

While these events are all superficially unrelated, each reveals an
aspect of a rich inner life that is not a part of conscious, much
less rational, thought. Today, long after Sigmund Freud introduced
the world to the fact that much of what we do is determined by
mysterious memories and emotional forces, the depths of the mind
and the brain are being explored anew.

"Most of what we do every minute of every day is unconscious, " says University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Paul Whelan. "Life would be chaos if everything were on the forefront of our consciousness."

Fueled by powerful neuroimaging technology, questions about how we
make snap decisions, why we feel uncomfortable without any obvious
causes, what motivates us, and what satisfies us are being answered
not through lying on a couch and exploring individual childhood
miseries but by looking at neurons firing in particular parts of
our brains. Hardly a week passes without the release of the results
of a new study on these kinds of processes.

And popular culture is so fascinated by neuroscience that Blink, journalist Malcolm Gladwell's exploration of "thinking without
has remained on the bestseller lists for four weeks.
Most of us can appreciate the fact that we make up our minds about
things based on thinking that takes place somewhere just out of our
reach. But today, scientists are finding neural correlates to those
processes, parts of the brain that we never gave their due,
communicating with other parts, triggering neurotransmitters, and
driving our actions.

Says Clinton Kilts, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory,

"There is nothing that you do, there is no thought that you have,
there is no awareness, there is no lack of awareness, there is
nothing that marks your daily existence that doesn't have a neural
code. The greatest challenge for us is to figure out how to design
the study that will reveal these codes."

Burgeoning understanding of our unconscious has deeply personal and
also fascinating medical implications. The realization that our
actions may not be the pristine results of our high-level reasoning
can shake our faith in the strength of such cherished values as
free will, a capacity to choose, and a sense of responsibility over
those choices.
We will never be able to control the rhythm of
our heartbeats or the choreography of our limbic system. And yet,

Gladwell writes that "our snap judgments and first impressions
can be educated and controlled . . . [and] the task of making sense
of ourselves and our behavior requires that we acknowledge there
can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of
rational analysis."

(Page 2 of 6)

Mental health.

But unconscious processing is not just the stuff of compelling
personal insight. For those with emotional disorders like anxiety,
bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, and others who suffer from
traumatic brain injuries either from a stroke or an accident,
peeling away the behavioral layers of their dysfunction has
revealed fascinating activity out of conscious awareness that may
eventually provide clues to more effective treatments.

Recent research on minimally conscious patients, for example, shows
language centers on fire when they hear personal stories recounted
by a family member. Research on schizophrenia reveals that
most who are afflicted have an impaired ability to smell, which
researchers think may provide some clue to understanding why they
have such difficulty perceiving social cues.
Or consider the
case of Sarah Scantlin, who was hit by a drunk driver and lay mute
at the Golden Plains Health Care Center in Hutchinson, Kan., for 20
years. After the Sept. 22, 1984, crash, the doctor told her parents
that it was a miracle she was even alive but that she would never
talk or move again on her own. Last month she began to speak--a
simple "OK" at first, then more words, even short sentences.

How does this happen? What was going on all that time? How do we
get some access to this thing called the unconscious?

According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only
about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our
decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95
percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness.
From the beating of our hearts to pushing the grocery cart and not
smashing into the kitty litter, we rely on something that is called
the adaptive unconscious, which is all the ways that our brains
understand the world that the mind and the body must negotiate. The
adaptive unconscious makes it possible for us to, say, turn a
corner in our car without having to go through elaborate
calculations to determine the precise angle of the turn, the
velocity of the automobile, the steering radius of the car. It is
what can make us understand the correct meaning of statements like
"prostitutes appeal to pope" or "children make nourishing snacks"
without believing that they mean that the pope has an illicit life
and cannibals are munching on children.

Consuming thoughts.

Gerald Zaltman uses examples like these in many of his
conversations. He may be an emeritus professor from the Harvard
Business School, but he thinks about layers of consciousness like a
neuroscientist. He is also a founding partner in Olson Zaltman
Associates, a consulting firm that provides guidance to businesses
seeking to better understand the minds--and in this case it is
quite literally the minds--of consumers.

As a professor of marketing, Zaltman obviously was very interested in figuring out what made people buy one thing and not the other. In the world of neuroscience, this goes to the heart of the profound questions of
motivation. In the world of business, this goes to the bottom

(Page 3 of 6)

When trying to probe the minds of consumers, Zaltman wondered if
there was a way to move beyond the often-unreliable focus group to
get at the true desires of consumers, unencumbered by other noise,
which would finally result in more effective sales and marketing.
His solution became U.S. Patent No. 5,436,830, also known as the

Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique, which is, according to
the patent, "a technique for eliciting interconnected constructs
that influence thought and behavior."

From Hallmark cards to Broadway plays, from Nestle's Crunch bars to the design for the new Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, ZMET has been used to figure out how to craft a message so that consumers will respond with the important 95 percent of their brains that motivates many of their
choices. How? Through accessing the deep metaphors that people,
even without knowing it, associate with a particular product or
feeling or place.

Language is limited, Zaltman says, "and it can't be confused with
the thought itself." Images, however, move a bit closer to
capturing fragments of the rich and contradictory areas of
unconscious feelings. Participants in his studies cut out pictures
that represent their thoughts and feelings about a particular
subject, even if they can't explain why. He discovered that when
people do this, they often discover "a core, a deep metaphor
simultaneously embedded in a unique setting." They are drawn to
seasonal or heroic myths, for example, or images like blood and
fire and mother. They are also drawn into deep concepts like
journey and transformation. His work around the world has
convinced him that the menu of these unconscious metaphors is
limited and universal, in the manner of human emotions like hope
and grief.

And Zaltman has found that even grand metaphors have their
practical applications. The architectural firm Astorino and the
design firm Fathom asked Zaltman for help in designing a new
children's hospital that would make a difficult experience somehow
easier for children, their parents, and the people who work there.
With the classic ZMET technique, children, parents, and staff
members cut out pictures they somehow associated with the hospital
and were then interviewed for nearly two hours about these
pictures, exploring the thoughts, feelings, and associations that
they triggered. A stream of metaphors emerged in the conversation.

A child brought in a picture of a mournful-looking pug, which
she colored blue "because he's kind of sad, and that's the way I
feel when I'm in the ICU or just can't get out of my room."

After each picture was thoroughly analyzed by the participants, the
images were scanned, and another interviewer with a computer and a
talent for the Photoshop program sat with the parent, child, or
staff member and created a collage, a personal Rorschach test of
the images (box, Page 60). This snapshot of the participant's
unconscious associations with the hospital was then enlarged to
include personal narratives using the collage. The process is
painstaking, but after the transcripts of these sessions are
reviewed, even in all the enormous variety of human expression
and emotion, core themes emerge. In the case of Children's
Hospital, says Christine Astorino Del Sole of the Fathom firm, "the
main metaphor was transformation, and the supporting metaphors were
control, connection, and energy."

(Page 4 of 6)

So how does that translate into the physical space? When patients
and their families walk into the new hospital, which will be
completed in 2008, they will be surrounded by images of
butterflies, the ultimate symbol of transformation. Patient rooms
will be more like home, and children will be able to exercise some
control over their personal space. A huge garden, embodying
transformation as well as energy and connection, will be visible
from all rooms and accessible to children and their families.

"Before, design was a guessing game; it was hit or miss," says Del
Sole. "But we know now that at the deepest level this hospital has
to be about transformation." So when a sick child, or a worried
parent, or a harassed nurse walks into this hospital, a deep and
reassuring recognition of the potential beauties of transformation
will resonate unconsciously.

Waves of cola.

Zaltman, obviously, is not the only person peering into the mind of
the consumer. In a neuroscientific take on the time-honored blind
taste test, Coke and Pepsi once again squared off. In
Blink, Gladwell describes how the Coca-Cola Co. made a
costly mistake in using data from blind taste tests between Coke
and Pepsi--in which Pepsi was emphatically preferred by most cola
drinkers--to change the recipe and create the marketing debacle
that was New Coke. Still, even with a less preferred taste, Coke
remains No. 1 in the soft-drink world. More recent research that
was published after Gladwell's book was finished may explain

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine offered 67 committed Coke
and Pepsi drinkers a choice, and in blind testing, they preferred
Pepsi. When they were shown the company logos before they drank,
however, 3 out of 4 preferred Coke. The researchers scanned the
brains of the participants during the test and discovered that the

Coke label created wild activity in the part of the brain
associated with memories and self-image, while Pepsi, though
tasting better to most, did little to these feel-good centers in
the brain.
P. Reed Montague, director of the Brown Foundation
Human Neuroimaging laboratory at Baylor, explained when the study
was released last October: "There's a huge effect of the Coke
label on brain activity related to the control of actions, the
dredging up of memories and self-image." The mere red-and-white
image of Coke made the hippocampus, our brain's vault of memories,
and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for
many of our higher human brain functions like working memory and
what is called executive function or control of behavior, light up.
The point, says Montague, is that "there is a response in the brain
which leads to a behavioral effect." And curiously, it has nothing
to do with conscious preference.

The dog comes up and begins to sniff. If it remembers you, and you
were a nice person, then instantly it wags its tail, perhaps even
deigns to lick your wrist. It may avoid you. It may associate you
with food or with a swift kick. And all those images, all those
associations are evoked by one healthy whiff.

(Page 5 of 6)

Aside from the basic inhibition against walking up to someone and
sniffing, humans are no different. "An odor is not just a
name--it is a whole context," says psychiatrist Dolores Malaspina
of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Columbia
University Medical Center. Olfactory information is
"privileged," Malaspina explains, since it is the only one of our
five senses that does not make a brief stop at the brain's relay
station, the thalamus, before going to the ever so intellectual
prefrontal cortex. Smell is unmediated, unfiltered, and it hits the
prefrontal cortex with a wallop of intensity. Researchers have
found that smell plays a strong role in our mating choices, even
without our knowing it. And when female roommates synchronize their
menstrual cycles, it is because the unconscious perception of odor
sets off the endocrine system. Our brains, says Malaspina,
"beginning with fetal development, are laid out to give precedence
to olfactory perception."

But what happens if olfactory perception doesn't work
Malaspina and other researchers are looking at the
olfactory sense in emotional disorders and have found some
intriguing results. While schizophrenia is seen as a disorder of
hallucinations and delusions, a more compelling and disruptive
element of the disorder is social impairment. Some people with
schizophrenia can't seem to read social cues, or manage social
relationships, or summon a social context for whatever encounter
they are experiencing. And while hallucinations and delusions can
be controlled often through medication, these basic social
impairments cause far more difficulty in dealing with the daily
demands of life.

Research has shown that many people with schizophrenia can also
suffer from "clinically meaningful olfactory impairment," which
includes dysfunction in higher brain centers such as the parietal
lobes--the part of the brain that's responsible for integrating
sensory output so as to understand something, like reading social
cues or contextualizing those cues.
Just as a smell can elicit
an immediate image of a particular time and place, lacking that
ability can deprive someone of a basic social and emotional anchor
in life. "What we are learning is that smell is a good window into
the unconscious basis for sociability and social interest," says

Malaspina. "There is a tremendous explosion of interest in this
forgotten sense. And it was under our noses all the time."
The scenario occurs in hospital rooms throughout the world,
thousands of times every day. A brain-damaged father or mother
or child lies in bed, not completely unconscious, not in a coma,
but demonstrating only flickering consciousness, small behaviors
that show there is some evidence of the person who once was there,
some evidence that this person perhaps knows friends and family
members are near by.

Medically, these patients are categorized as existing in a
minimally conscious state of awareness; it is estimated that there
are 100,000 to 300,000 Americans in such a state right now.
Sometimes these patients are able to actually utter the name of an
object or to follow a very simple command. But for friends and
family, they are no longer themselves. And because they find
language so difficult, it is also assumed that they are unlikely to
follow conversations.

(Page 6 of 6)

The eye of the mind?

But in a stunning study published this month in the Journal
Neurology, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging
to study the brains of two minimally conscious patients and
compared them with the brains of seven healthy men and woman. The
scans revealed that the minimally conscious patients had less than
half of the brain activity of the others. But then all the subjects
were played a tape made by a family member or friend, recounting
happy memories and shared experiences. One minimally conscious
man listened to his sister reminiscing about her wedding and about
the toast that he made. The result was astonishing: All those who
were scanned, including the minimally conscious patients, shared
similar brain activity, some with activation in the visual cortex.

"This shows that there is a life of the mind beyond what is
apparent," says Joseph Fins, chief of the medical ethics division
of New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. But
Fins, who was not involved in the study, points out that
philosophical questions also emerge. "Does this mean that they are
seeing words? Visualizing semantic concepts? Does this in some way
conceptualize consciousness?" As Zaltman points out, language is
only the narrowest determination of our thoughts. This study shows
that our brains, even damaged brains, are exquisitely attuned to
that fact.

For the brain damaged and for the healthy, despite the evidence of
the prevalence of the unconscious in our daily lives, even as
fervent a believer as Zaltman urges a bit of caution. "I don't
think we know what the batting average is for purely rational
reasons or reasons dressed up that way, or reasons dressed up as
purely intuition. Both can get us into trouble--often do. And both
serve us well." It is that great tension between the two, the
intermingling of the known and the unknown, the conscious and the
unconscious, the 5 percent and the 95 percent, that the pioneers
exploring this vast and intricate universe of our minds will
continue to probe. But there will most likely never be a complete
understanding. After all, the enigmas of the mind, and the
mechanics of the brain, will forever define the ultimate mystery of
simply being human.

Despite evil rumors, I did NOT post that under Dreamer's name. I did see that article a few days ago, but chose to not share it, lol....

interesting stuff, true?

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