Monday, May 2, 2016

The Neurobiology of Inside Out

Dr. Lori Desautels - Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Marian University recently posted an article on how emotions affect learning, behaviors, and relationships

She begins with the idea that we need all of our emotions for problem solving, in order to remember, retrieve, transfer and connect new information to what we already know.  She goes on to say that a continuous stream of negative emotions changes our brain's architecture by leaving us in a heightened stress-response state where fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, and sadness overwhelm over our thinking, logical brains.

Desautels then turns to the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out's depiction of how joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust interact, illustrating that we need the negative emotions as much as the positive. She then explores the four categories representing the conceptual and developing brains of all children and adolescents.

Neuroplasticity - which Lori calls "the best news from neuroscience in recent years" is the brain’s capacity to rewire itself. Learning is the result of neuroplasticity, which also changes our perceptions and behaviors. Neuroplasticity includes reframing or reappraising an experience, event or relationship, so that we observe and experience a different outcome. In other words, our perceptions are our reality. She also warns that lingering negative brain states can become habitual.

Next, Desautels moves onto Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) and Emotional Intelligence; the development of mindful awareness, as strategies for achieving healthy integration of emotional, psychological, physiological, and cognitive functioning.

All of us are constantly creating memories. What makes them significant are the emotions that we attach to past events, experiences, and relationships. Emotions drive our attention and perception. Core memories have high emotional intensity which we've attached to an event or experience.


Inside Out introduced us to the emotions mingling in 11-year-old's brain. Riley's joyful core memories are represented as golden balls. In the beginning, Riley's sadness interferes with her joy-filled memories. When a golden memory is touched by sadness, the gold fades to deep blue, and her joy becomes frustrated. As Riley matures, she experiences sadness and joy beginning to work well together, creating lasting core memories which eventually become a part of her personality.

Lori suggests a number of questions which were designed for educators to ignite their creativity and thought processes about teaching and behaviors in the classroom. I strongly suspect that these can also be helpful in the office; I've edited their wording to reflect that shift;

  • What types of core memories can you create with clients, bosses and co-workers? These memories might be emotional, academic, or social, reflecting a new relationship, a novel way of attempting an assignment, or collaboration on a project.
  • How can we create core memories that energize, pique curiosity, and bring joy to others?
  • Are you considering the "neuroanatomy" of others?
  • Do people understand the negative role that stress plays in cognitive functioning with regard to learning, memorizing, and retrieving information?

  • How might we begin the workday with an emotional check-in? What is the "weather" in your brain? 
  • What could we all do to become more aware of, and transparent about, our emotions during the day? 
Desautels closes with observations and questions about specific emotions and puts them in the context of the film;

 
  • How do you cope with Sadness?
  • Can you use your Sadness to feel better?
  • What would happen if we never felt Sadness? 
  • Is it sometimes good to keep Sadness inside a circle so that it does not spread and get out of control?
Fear and Anger can protect and motivate us.
  • When was Fear needed in your life?
  • How did Fear help you?
  • What is the perfect amount of Fear?
  • What happens to our thinking and problem solving when we carry too much Fear or Sadness?
  • How does Anger show up in your brain?
  • Has Anger ever helped you?
  • How do you typically handle your Anger?
Disgust keeps us from being poisoned physically and socially.
  • How has the feeling of Disgust helped you?
  • How has expressing Disgust hurt your relationships or experiences?
Joy - the leading role among the feelings in Riley's brain.
  • Does Joy always play the leading role in our brains?
  • What happened when Joy and Sadness left headquarters?
  • How do we see Joy in your own brain?
  • What creates Joy to take over your brain?
Not Feeling
  • What would life be like if we didn't have feelings?
  • Describe two positive changes in our life if we didn't have feelings.
  • Describe two negative changes that could occur in a life with no feelings.
There is more to come from Desautels. She's going to look at core memories next.

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