The Eye Of The Mind The Adaptive Unconscious

By Ange Fonce

In this article I make no apologies... I have let my inner Geek run free about a subject I am so passionate about... the Mind and the Brain... so let me start by asking you a question...

Do you ever think about the snap judgement you make? 

The song that constantly runs through your head whenever you are doing? 

The desire to drink Coke rather than Pepsi or to drive a gas guzzling  monster of a car... rather than a green and economic one? 

The expression on your spouses face that inexplicably makes you feel either amorous or enraged or how about the now incomprehensible reasons you married your spouse in the first place? 

Welcome to evidence of your adaptive unconscious at work. 

While these events are all superficially unrelated... each reveals an aspect of a rich inner life that is not a part of conscious... much less rational mind... Sigmund Freud introduced the world to the fact that much of what we do is determined by mysterious memories and emotional forces...since Freud the make up of the mind and the functions of the brain are being constantly explored and understood anew. 

You may think you are in control... yet most of what you do every minute of every day is unconscious.

Why is that?

To keep things simple... life would be chaos if everything were on the forefront of our consciousness... our conscious mind just could not handle all the sensory input coming into our brain... we would go into overload and mentally break down.” 

Using neuroimaging technology... questions about how we make snap decisions... why we feel uncomfortable without any obvious causes... what motivates us and what satisfies us are being answered not through lying on a couch and exploring individual childhood memories... we can now see inside the brain and see it working and by looking at neurons firing in particular parts of our brains... the understanding of how the brain works and functions is growing all the time. 

Most of us can appreciate the fact that we make up our minds about things based on thinking that takes place somewhere just out of our reach and scientists are finding neural correlates to those processes... parts of the brain communicating with other parts.. triggering neurotransmitters and driving our actions... there is nothing that you do... there is no thought that you have... there is no awareness... there is no lack of awareness... there is nothing that marks your daily existence that does not have a neural code and research is going on to revel these codes. 

Understanding of our unconscious has deeply personal and also fascinating implications... the realization that your actions may not be the results of your high level reasoning is real challenge to the ideal of free will a capacity to choose and a sense of responsibility over those choices

You will never be able to consciously control the rhythm of your heartbeat or the choreography of your limbic system and yet with focused and conscious attention... your snap judgements and first impressions can be educated and controlled and the awareness of making sense of yourself and your behaviour requires that you acknowledge there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational thinking

Unconscious Processing Is The Stuff Of

Compelling Personal Insight. 

For those with emotional problems like anxiety... shyness... low personal esteem... lack of confidence... peeling away the behavioural layers of their dysfunction has revealed fascinating activity out of conscious awareness that may eventually provide clues to more effective dealing with these personal issues.

Recent research for example shows language centres on fire when they hear personal stories recounted by a family member and have an impaired ability to smell... which researchers think may provide some clue to understanding why they have such difficulty perceiving social cues

How does this happen... what was going on all that time... how do you get some access to this thing called the unconscious? 

According to cognitive neuroscientists... we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity... so most of our decisions... actions... emotions and behaviour depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness... from the beating of our hearts to pushing the grocery cart and not smashing into the kitty litter... we rely on something that is called the adaptive unconscious which is the way that our brains understand the world that the mind and the body must negotiate. 

The adaptive unconscious makes it possible for us to turn a corner in our car without having to go through elaborate calculations to determine the precise angle of the turn... the speed of the car... the turning circle of the car... it is what can make us understand the correct meaning of statements like "prostitutes appeal to pope" or "children make nourishing snacks" without thinking that they mean that the pope has an illicit life and cannibals are munching on children. 

Consuming Thoughts... 

The Interesting Science...

Have you ever heard the saying...

“A picture speaks a thousand words.”

Gerald Zaltman uses examples like these in many of his conversations... he may be an emeritus professor from the Harvard Business School and he thinks about layers of consciousness like a neuroscientist... he is also a founding partner in Olson Zaltman Associates... a consulting firm that provides guidance to businesses seeking to better understand the mind and in this case it is quite literally the minds of consumers... as a professor of marketing... Zaltman obviously was very interested in figuring out what made people buy one thing and not the other... in the world of neuroscience... this goes to the heart of the profound questions of motivation in the world of business this goes to the bottom line. 

When trying to probe the minds of consumers... Zaltman wondered if there was a way to move beyond the often unreliable focus group to get at the true desires of consumers... unencumbered by other noise... which would finally result in more effective sales and marketing. 

His solution became U.S. Patent No. 5,436,830, also known as the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique which is according to the patent... 

"A technique for eliciting interconnected constructs that influence thought and behaviour." 

From Hallmark cards to Broadway plays from Nestles Crunch bars... ZMET has been used to figure out how to craft a message so that consumers will respond with the important 95 percent of their brains that motivates many of their choices. 


Through accessing the deep metaphors that people... even without knowing it... associate with a particular product or feeling or place. 

Language is Limited... 

And it cannot be confused with the thought itself. 

Images though move a bit closer to capturing fragments of the rich and contradictory areas of unconscious feelings

Participants in his studies cut out pictures that represent their thoughts and feelings about a particular subject... even if they cannot explain why he discovered that when people do this... they often discover a core and a deep metaphors simultaneously embedded in a unique setting... they are drawn to seasonal or heroic myths for example... 

Images like blood and fire and mother... they are also drawn into deep concepts like journey and transformation... his work around the world has convinced him that the menu of these unconscious metaphors is limited and universal... in the manner of human emotions like hope and grief. 

And Zaltman has found that even grand metaphors have their practical applications... the architectural firm Astorino and the design firm Fathom asked Zaltman for help in designing a new childrens hospital that would make a difficult experience somehow easier for children... their parents... and the people who work there. 

With the classic ZMET technique... children... parents and staff members cut out pictures they somehow associated with the hospital and were then interviewed for nearly two hours about these pictures... exploring the thoughts... feelings and associations that they triggered... a stream of metaphors emerged in the conversation... a child brought in a picture of a mournful looking pug which she coloured blue... 

"Because he's kind of sad and thats the way I feel when I am in the ICU or just cant get out of my room." 

After each picture was thoroughly analyzed by the participants... the images were scanned and another interviewer with a computer and a talent for the Photoshop program sat with the parent... child or staff member and created a collage... a personal Rorschach test of the images... this snapshot of the participants unconscious associations with the hospital was then enlarged to include personal narratives using the collage. 

The process is painstaking and after the transcripts of these sessions are reviewed... even in all the enormous variety of human expression and emotional core themes emerge... in the case of Childrens Hospital the main metaphor was Transformation and the supporting metaphors were control... connection and energy.

So How Does That Translate Into The Physical Space? 

When patients and their families walk into the new hospital... which was be completed in 2008... they were surrounded by images of butterflies... the ultimate symbol of transformation... patient rooms are more like home and children will be able to exercise some control over their personal space... a huge garden... embodying transformation as well as energy and connection... is visible from all rooms and accessible to children and their families. 

Before... design was a guessing game... it was hit or miss and at the deepest level this hospital is about transformation... so when a sick child or a worried parent or a harassed nurse walks into this hospital... a deep and reassuring recognition of the potential beauties of transformation will resonate unconsciously. 

Zaltman obviously is not the only person peering into the mind of the consumer in a neuro scientific take on the time honored blind taste test... Coke and Pepsi once again squared off in the book  Blink by Malcolm Gladwell... he describes how the Coca Cola Co... made a costly mistake in using data from blind taste tests between Coke and which Pepsi was emphatically preferred by most cola drinkers to change the recipe and create the marketing debacle that was New Coke. 

Still even with a less preferred taste... Coke remains No 1 in the soft drink world.... more recent research that was published after Gladwells book was finished may explain why. 

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine offered 67 committed Coke and Pepsi drinkers a choice and in blind testing... they preferred Pepsi... when they were shown the company logos before they drank... 3 out of 4 preferred Coke.... the researchers scanned the brains of the participants during the test and discovered that the Coke label created wild activity in the part of the brain associated with memories and self image while Pepsi... though tasting better to most did little to these emotional centres in the brain

P. Reed Montague... director of the Brown Foundation Human Neuroimaging laboratory at Baylor... explained when the study was released... 

"There's a huge effect of the Coke label on brain activity related to the control of actions, the dredging up of memories and self image." 

The red and white image of Coke made the hippocampus... our brains vault of memories and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex... which is responsible for many of our higher human brain functions like working memory and what is called executive function or control of behaviour... light up. 

The point... says Montague... 

“Is that there is a response in the brain which leads to a behavioural effect and curiously it has nothing to do with conscious preference.”

The dog comes up and begins to sniff... if it remembers you and you were a nice person... then instantly it wags its tail... perhaps even deigns to lick your wrist... it may avoid you... it may associate you with food or with a swift kick and all those images... all those associations are evoked by one healthy whiff. 

Aside from the basic inhibition against walking up to someone and sniffing... humans are no different... an odor is not just a name it is a whole context... olfactory information is privileged since it is the only one of our 7 senses that does not make a brief stop at the brains relay station... the thalamus before going to the ever so intellectual prefrontal cortex... smell is unmediated... unfiltered and it hits the prefrontal cortex with a wallop of intensity. 

Researchers have found that smell plays a strong role in our mating choices... even without our knowing it and when female room mates synchronize their menstrual cycles... it is because the unconscious perception of odour sets off the endocrine system. 

Our brains in the beginning with fetal development are laid out to give precedence to olfactory perception... yet  what happens if olfactory perception does not work properly? 

Researchers are looking at the olfactory sense in emotional disorders and have found some intriguing results... in the form of social impairment like men and women who suffer anxiety... shyness... low personal esteem... cannot seem to read social cues or manage social relationships or summon a social context for whatever encounter they are experiencing and these basic social impairments cause far more difficulty in dealing with the daily demands of life. 

Clinically olfactory impairment which includes dysfunction in higher brain centres such as the parietal lobes... the part of the brain that is responsible for integrating sensory output so as to understand something... like reading social cues or contextualizing those cues... just as a smell can elicit an immediate image of a particular time and place... lacking that ability can deprive someone of a basic social and emotional anchor in life. 

What is being learned and understood is that smell is a good window into the unconscious basis for sociability and social interest... there is a lot of interest in this forgotten sense and it was under our noses all the time. 

The Minds Eye... 

The Adaptive Unconscious?

So to round up the idea and growing theory of the adaptive unconscious...  is that you have a set of unconscious mental processes that can be used for successful decision making and that will often prove to in fact be more effective than the conscious strategies you might use to make decisions.

These unconscious hunches or intuition are based on factors like emotional response... estimates and experience and even if you do not know why you feel a certain way... you will often find your unconscious brain urging you to make a particular choice.

According to many researchers our adaptive unconscious is often more successful when it comes to making decisions than we are consciously ourselves... which raises an interesting question for you to consider when you make decisions in your day to day lives. 

Should you go with your gut response or give it further thought?

So what is your first impulse on the matter?

Have you any thoughts or comments you would like to share with me on what I have written?

I would love to hear from you.

Thank you and may you enjoy a Loving... Prosperous and Dynamic day!

Yours Sincerely

Dynamic Lifer... The Tribe of Dynamic Lifers

1... A person with a penchant for Science... creativity... books... writing... communication... fitness... women... sexing... sexuality... human relationships... psychology... physiology and any other area involving heavy use of the Intellect.

2... A bright person and glamorously Intelligent!

3... Ange is an Author... Speaker and Dynamic Peak Performance Personal Development Consultant... and Humanistic Counselling Psychologist... Sexologist and Multipreneur... who works with those men and women who desire to personally develop themselves and their relationships to become Dynamic Lifers... creators of their own life... relationships and wealth! 

4... If you are Happy and you Know it... you are becoming a Dynamic Lifer!

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