Where Does Your Brain Go When You “Zone Out?”
By Justin Cowart
Everyone has a least a few non-negotiable values. These are values or standards that, no matter what the circumstances are, you would never compromise for any reason whatsoever, such as “I would never cause harm to a child,” or maybe, “I am completely against the death penalty.”
If you look at real-time brain scans, they tend to show that when people choose to read stories that focus on these core, protected values, a type of “default mode network” within their brains activates.
This type of brain network was once thought of as just your brain’s autopilot, since tests have shown it to be active when you are not engaged by anything in the outside world, but in studies similar to this one, there has been evidence to suggest that it is actually working to find any meaning within the narratives.
Jonas Kaplan, lead author of this study – which was published in the journal Cerebral Cortex – and a partner with USC Dornsife Brain and Creativity Institute’s, said that,
“The brain is devoting a huge amount of energy to whatever that network is doing. We need to understand why.”
Kaplan strongly believes that it is not just your brain that is presented with a type of moral quandary, but rather, the quandary is actually presented in a narrative format.
“Stories help us to organize information in a unique way.”
For the researchers to be able to find relevant stories, they decided to comb through and hand sort 20 million different blog posts that were utilizing software that was developed at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.
Kaplan goes on to state,
“We wanted to know how people tell stories in their daily lives. It was kind of like finding stories in their natural habitat.”
The 20 million different blog posts were then pared all the way down to 40 stories that each contained a different example of a crisis that involved a potentially protected value such as having an abortion, getting into a fight, cheating on a spouse, or crossing a picket line.
These types of stories were then translated into Farsi and Mandarin and were then read by Chinese, American and Iranian participants in their native tongues while their brains were scanned by a fMRI. General questions were also asked about the different stories while the scanning procedures took place.
The stories that the participants of the study said involved values that were protected actually activated the default mode network that resided in their brain to a much higher degree.
Additionally, the level of activation actually varied from culture to culture. The study proved that on average, the Iranians were able to show the greatest level of activation in the study, while the Chinese participants showed the least activation.
Professor of neurology and psychology Antonio Damasio said that,
“Stories appear to be a fundamental way in which the brain organizes information in a practical and memorable manner. It is important to understand the neural mechanisms required to do this and this study is a step in that direction,”
He went on to say,
“People will often hold political values as protected values and protected values are at the root of many political conflicts around the world, which is why they’re interesting to us.”
It seems strange that these results varied from culture to culture – you would think that things such as not hurting children or not believing in the death penalty would actually be things that were universal in all people. It makes me think that if we as a race of beings could at some point get on the same page of value and belief, imagine what our wonderful world would be capable of.
We would love to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments below!
Justin Cowart is a writer and researcher that loves to learn more about health, life, consciousness and making the world a better place. He loves music, traveling, meditation, video games and spending time with family and friends. He believes in baby steps and lifestyle changes in order to live a full life. In 2014, he lost around 40lbs from baby steps and emotional detoxing.
Latest posts by Justin Cowart (see all)
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS