Friday, August 22, 2008

Procrastinating can tire the brain

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
A box of chocolates.
Charles Green’s recent post, Do People Trust Rationally? prompted me to leave a comment. He got me thinking about how trust could possibly be formed quickly through rationality. I procrastinated a bit before I typed in my comment. After that, I had to have a cup of tea and a lie down.

The brain tires like a muscle:

In a recent paper, Professor On Amir suggests that the brain works in a similar way to a muscle, in that “when depleted, it becomes less effective.” Deliberating and procrastinating over making choices depletes the so-called executive resources in the brain. As a result, subsequent decision-making can be adversely affected when making choices with a tired brain.

But it is the switch from deliberating to actually executing the choice that does the depleting, says Amir. People with overtaxed brains make worse decisions than those whose brains are well rested. Those who do not deliberate make decisions that also tend to be inferior.

Trust is about choice:

It's supposed to be cool to be capricious, cool to be democratic (whatever that means), cool to be so laid back you fall off the fence. When it comes to making a choice, there is a whole mystique associated with that moment of decision. Often there is an urgency associated with making the right choice and a person has to draw on the executive functions when executing that choice.

In my comment on Charles’ post, I maintained that decisions about trust that are made rapidly, are less likely to be useful. Most people don't like being unsure about certain things. In situations where trust is seen to be important, they feel an urgency to make up their minds. So they will find short-cuts to do this quickly, presumably saving on their brain’s executive function:

"I didn't like the shoes he was wearing . . . "

"Something about the way she came into the room . . . "

"I always distrust a man with a beard . . . ", etc.

Unease in uncertainty:

When there is a need to make a choice or form an opinion about trust, there is a discomfort that people feel until their mind is made up. The ease that is felt when this is done is gratifying to such an extent that it tends to dispel residual doubt about the first formed opinion. It's almost as if it's chemical, like a shot of alcohol, for it brings about a feeling of wellbeing.

Comfort can be found in the smug idea, "I know I'm right." Doubt is pushed into the background by this. As positive as people might be about their own opinion, later they may still want to look for other evidence to support their choice. Goethe was purported to have said, "If you look for evidence to support your opinion, you'll find it."

Deliberation makes for sound decisions:

Though procrastinating and making a decision involving trust may deplete the executive function of the brain, it is likely to be superior to a decision made without forethought. In some ways this is the payoff for the mental effort that is spent. Trust built through rationality takes time. It has to be earned, and achieving that can take a long time. When it eventually happens through this formative process, it can be deep and solemn - a trust on which life-long relationships are built.

Can sound trust be built quickly? If it is proved that trust quickly formed remains in tact over a long and testing period of time, was it through good judgement that it was built? Or was it just pure chance that the right decision was made?

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Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


Anonymous said...

Hello Ken - and thank you for that beautiful poem.

Do you know Jack Gibb's work on Trust? Definitely worth a read.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Tracy!

I'm glad you liked my pome :) written at the beginning of summer 1991. The air was filled with the deafening chant of hundreds of cicadas.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for Jack Gibb's 'Trust'. You are right. It is an interesting read.

In my limited study of trust, I've come to the conclusion that there are two perspectives. One is that of the trusted who has earned the trust, which seems to be Jack Gibb's perspective.

The other is that of the person who gives the trust, by dint of judgement of those qualities that earn the right to that trust.

I have to admit that when I read studies on trust from the former perspective, my baloney detector begins to kick in. Carl Sagan introduced me to his
baloney detector kit, when I read his Demon-Haunted Word: Science as a Candle in the Dark. It permits me to separate the grain from the chaff.

I'm not suggesting that Gibb's work would show positive on the detector, but it is an observation that when viewed from each of those different points of view, trust takes on different hues.

One aspect that I can give as example to illustrate is the 'fear' that the trusted seems to relate about. Whereas the person who gives the trust talks of 'unease' or 'discomfort' - emotions that are not exactly what I'd describe as fear.

Ka kite