Tyler Anderson-Sieg received his B.S. in Biology and B.A. in Psychology from the University of Missouri – Columbia in 2016 and is currently finishing up his Ph. D. in Biomedical Science (with a neuroscience emphasis). Tyler’s research is focused on understanding how the neurotransmitter acetylcholine interacts with the emotional circuitry in the brain (specifically in the amygdala) with the goal of understanding how it affects our experience of emotions. He is passionate about learning new things and making new findings from cutting edge science easily accessible to non-expert audiences through both written and oral modes of communication. After graduating with his Ph. D., Tyler is eager to turn his passion into a career by becoming a science or medical writer.
Our Strategically Lazy Brains
Our brains must construct a coherent worldview from an endless stream of information in a busy and complicated world. This is no easy task. Our decisions must often be quick and thinking takes time. Thinking also taps into a limited supply of mental energy. Consequently, our brains don’t have the mental resources to understand the world.
To overcome this problem, our brains rely on schemas – preconceived ideas already stored in our minds – to do the thinking for them. Schemas represent our understanding of different aspects of the world and our brains use different types for different situations. Some tell us how to behave in social settings, while others tell us what different objects are and do. Schemas allow our brains to process more information faster and preserve mental energy for other important thinking, like problem-solving.
But despite these benefits, schemas also have downsides. They can lead to biased perceptions and inaccurate judgments. Our brains automatically force new information to fit into our rigid schemas – even if doing so requires altering it. When this happens, we see what we want or know instead of what is really before us. Someone who has never seen a futon may conclude it is a couch because couches are more common, and both objects have similar features.
Our brains use schemas because their benefits outweigh their costs. Most situations don’t require analytical thought, and the consequences of inaccuracies are often minor and acceptable. There is no harm in thinking a futon is a couch.
Despite our ingrained tendency for error, we are not beyond repair. We can combat our biases by thinking twice before jumping to conclusions. And even when we inevitably fail, there is still hope yet. Our brains can create new schemas by learning, which we can then use to avoid making the same mistakes again.