Mind Matters — Dum-Da-Dum-Dum

Anybody remember Dragnet, a TV program from the 1950’s? Okay, you’d have to be pretty old to remember Sergeant Joe Friday, portrayed by actor Jack Webb, say dryly to a witness or victim of crime, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Facts often take a backseat to ingrained mindsets or belief systems. However, with a change of perspective, a new understanding can be achieved. I remember when I first moved to Chadds Ford, Longwood student gardeners tried to educate me on the problem with certain invasive plants. At first, I was incredulous, but gradually I came to understand the interconnection of the various plants and their interconnection with wildlife. When we are open to learning the facts, we can change our mindset.

With that as a caveat, allow me to note some facts here about one of the several hot button issues that psychological research addresses.

One issue that neuroscience has studied is the effect of hate speech on the brain. There is an old adage among scientists of the brain: the neurons (brain cells) that fire together wire together. It is no accident that Buddhist monks who meditate on loving kindness have brains that are calmer and less reactive than the folks whose neurons thrive on hate speech. Psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Friedman noted recently (“The Neuroscience of Hate Speech”, New York Times, Nov 1, 2018) that “repeated exposure to hate speech can increase prejudice … . it can also desensitize individuals to verbal aggression, in part because it normalizes what is usually socially condemned behavior.” Furthermore, political figures and others who “stoke anger and fear … provoke a surge of stress hormones … cortisol and norepinephrine, and engage the amygdala, the brain center for threat.” The result of this brain activation is that people’s emotions get more intense and their ability to emotionally regulate is suppressed. In other words, a reactivity ensues that could lead some to extreme behaviors, including violence.

This is exacerbated if a group of people is made to feel threatened by another group of people. If this “other” group of people is dehumanized, then the psychological conditions conducive to violence are met. Empathy for the other is lost when the other is no longer considered part of your human family!

Plants may be invasive species, but people are not! Would that we could use our brains to discern the difference.