Monday, June 22, 2009

Hijacked brains.

      Another interesting incident happened to me recently. This one took place near our office. The story goes this way -

      It was around 11 in the morning, I was in the office and got a call from my friend. He said he was near my office and wanted me to come down quickly. I climbed down quickly and looked out on the road. At some distance I saw his car along with half a dozen people standing around it. I realized that, he was in trouble.
      Now, I am not particularly interested in roadside squabbles, but I am certainly interested in psychology. I believe, roadside tiffs lift the cover off of a usually unused facet of (modern) man. When I went near my friend's car, a guy supported by pals were arguing with him and asking him for compensation for some broken parts of their bike. What had happened was that - my friend, after putting the indicator on was taking a U-turn, just then, this guy tried to overtake him from the right and bumped straight into his cars rear door.

      Those guys were very aggressive and were determined to get the compensation. A few passers-by had gathered around and were suggesting the usual - 'भांङू नका, मिटवून टाका...' (don't fight, settle the matter). I tried to argue as logically as possible, fortunately, those guys were still in the realm of logic. It is extremely difficult to argue with someone who does not adhere to rationality, rather it is impossible to argue with such a person, especially if he is mad with anger. His argument was that, my friend must have seen him coming in the side view mirror, but he purposely did not stop. I told him that side-view mirrors are convex and, cannot display objects that are very close. I demoed that to him and he somewhat agreed.
      Then things become hot over his friend using foul language and my friend objecting that. This was probably a result of a commonly occurring misunderstanding. When people use F words(and equivalents), it is not necessary that they are directed towards any individual. In a situation like a roadside fight, when one party hears bad words, they are predisposed to assume that the words were directed at them. In fact, foul language is an excellent way to express one's frustration/disapproval/disappointment about the situation! For e.g Nasty language is regularly put to use when one's favorite sports team loses narrowly. Are we cursing the team ? Generally not, after all, they are a favorite and, one cannot win every match. Then, are we cursing the team who beat them ? Probably not, winning is no crime, they played well and so, won. Then, why the bad words ? What we are cursing is in fact the undesirable situation that we have been forced to experience!
     The most interesting part of episode is what happened next. The sun was almost overhead and it was not very comfortable to stand in the heat. So, i suggested in these very words- 'फारच ऊन आहे, वाद घालायचाच तर आपण तिथे सावलीत जावून घालू.' (Its too hot here, lets continue our conflict in the shadow over there') And my friend and myself moved towards the tree by the roadside.
Suddenly a surprising thing happened, the guy's friends(who were supporting him all this time) suddenly realized that they had other important stuff to do, the passers-by probably came to the same conclusion and everybody mysteriously left the scene! Ultimately, only the biker guy was left in the shade along with my friend and myself. He must have been disheartened by the reduced support, for, within a couple of minutes he almost agreed that it was his mistake. Even more, he said that the vehicle was not his and that, he had previously suffered two accidents which had damaged the bike! After all this, there was no question of giving him any compensation. The whole matter ended. We both gave him a friendly advice to drive carefully here onwards, and left for work.
     The turning point was when we decided to shift to under the tree. The change of subject, brought about change of thought in everybody's brains. The people who were least concerned suddenly realized that, they were investing in nothing useful.
      Taking the liberty to theorize, I would say that all the time during the dispute, the limbic system(the amgydala to blame in particular) had had hijacked the brains of everybody. After the limbic system takes over, the neo-cortex which is responsible for much of the rational/logical thinking by humans is sidelined. Evaluative beings turn totally emotion driven. The takeover of non-life-threatening situations by the amygdala more often than not creates trouble. The role of the amygdala is to make one act quickly in an emergency situation. When man lived in the jungles, the quick response initiated by the amygdala saved many a men. No wonder the amgydala made it through the evolutionary journey to homo sapiens sapiens.
      The good thing about amygdala activation is that, it lasts only for a very short amount of time (unless continuosly fuelled). To get the cortex back into control, a major change in topic or a sudden distraction is enough. In my case, the question whether we should shift to under the tree accidentally served this purpose and everyone was back to their rational, evaluative behaviour.
      I think a lot of fights and arguments would end better if we succeed in getting people to think using their cortexes rather than their excited amygdalas :)

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4 comments:

Chetan Vaity said...

Great job, Pranav!

For more about swear words read the fascinating book "The Stuff of Thought"" by Steven Pinker.

Shreyas said...

shya shya..
Interesting read!

Nikhil Joshi said...

well written...

Anonymous said...

Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article