Neural constellations: how to describe change and decision making

When I studied decision-making in college, the thinking was linear.  Stimulus A  caused response B.  I wonder, if have we have learned much since then…  My undergraduate psychology classes were at Hamilton College, the alma mater of B.F. Skinner, a leader of behaviorism.


My graduate classes in developmental psychobiology were at Dartmouth College, the alma mater of Dr. Seuss and countless global leaders of business and industry.


Recently I read about neural clusters in our brains.  Imagine several constellations or galaxies of brainwave activity.  Both chemical and electrical activity.  Like constellations or galaxies in the solar systems.   Now imagine that these neural clusters are both elastic and dynamic.  In other words, when we reinforce certain pathways or patterns (called functionalism) then we strengthen neuronal pathways.  And when we learn new knowledge (like a foreign language or an insight) then we strengthen the neural constellation so that it can sort through the past memories (called schemas) to create some new sorting system (called data.)  We know that some 60% of our behavior is patterned responses, monitored in the basal ganglia.  And we know that most new knowledge causes stress.


No wonder humans resist change.  Change, defined as any external new stimulus, forces us to re-sort data.  Change requires the brain to work in new ways.  The larger the organization, the more we resist change.


When faced with decision making options we often think of risk taking vs. risk avoidance.  As if the world were so linear…  My masters research on risk-taking behavior found that risk-taking is complex, like so many other human behaviors.


What if, instead, we adopted a non-linear view of decision making?


My revised model (of the moment, subject to change) looks something like this:


  1. We perceive Stimulus A
  2. We sort through a neural constellation of jumbled data, memories, images, schemas, etc
  3. We adopt a positive feeling that we have an infinite number of responses
  4. We select a Response B because it promotes some social good
The positive psychology movement has done extensive research in related fields.  Yesterday I learned that the most popular course at Harvard College, led by Shawn Achor, is called “The Happiness Advantage.”  Read Martin Seligman.  He led a reversal in the American Psychological Association within the last 20 years-  away from mental illness and toward mental health.
The coaching client who just left my office is adopting a similar approach.
How about you?   How do you describe change?