- When the brain fires up the network of neurons that allows us to empathize, it suppresses the network used for analysis, a pivotal study led by a Case Western Reserve University researcher shows.
- At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, the researchers found.
- The new study shows that adults presented with social or analytical problems -- all external stimuli -- consistently engaged the appropriate neural pathway to solve the problem, while repressing the other pathway. The see-sawing brain activity was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
- "This is the cognitive structure we've evolved," said Anthony Jack, an assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve and lead author of the new study. "Empathetic and analytic thinking are, at least to some extent, mutually exclusive in the brain."
- These findings suggest the same neural phenomenon drives the explanatory gap as occurs when we look at a visual illusion such as the duck-rabbit, he continued. The drawing of the head of the animal can be seen as a duck facing one direction or a rabbit facing the other, but you can't see both at once.
- "You want the CEO of a company to be highly analytical in order to run a company efficiently, otherwise it will go out of business," he said. "But, you can lose your moral compass if you get stuck in an analytic way of thinking." "You'll never get by without both networks," Jack continued. "You don't want to favor one, but cycle efficiently between them, and employ the right network at the right time."
It also mentioned briefly what sort of implications this would have for autism, whose sufferers often are advanced analytically and deficient socially, and for Williams syndrome, whose sufferers are socially adept but not analytically. That was interesting in a everything-has-its-opposite sort of way.
In terms of thinking about my own brain I thought about my own attention issues. To use the analogy from the article, maybe my seesaw is overly weighted on one side? Or it's rusty and hard to flip to the other side? I actually think that the issue is less in my ability to do or feel something, once I've set my mind to doing so, but that perhaps my brain does not naturally respond to the same sorts of external stimuli cuing the switch as well as other people's do.