Disinfonaughts are likely to be familiar with Jon Ronson’s book “The Psychopath Test”. In a nutshell the acclaimed journalist discovered evidence that suggested being a psychopath is useful if you want to survive in the cold logical world of management and business. (Listen to Jon Ronson on the Disinfocast – ed.) Now PopSci reports on evidence that empathy (a quality missing from the mind of a psychopath) is difficult to maintain when processing purely logical thoughts:
A new study published in NeuroImage found that separate neural pathways are used alternately for empathetic and analytic problem solving. The study compares it to a see-saw. When you’re busy empathizing, the neural network for analysis is repressed, and this switches according to the task at hand.
Anthony Jack, an assistant professor in cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study, relates the idea to an optical illusion. You can see a duck or a rabbit in the image, but not both at the same time. This limitation to what you can see is called perceptual rivalry. Jack’s new study takes this concept beyond visual perception, and investigates how the brain processes situations. It found separate neural networks for social/emotional processing and for logical analysis.
The study took magnetic resonance images of 45 college students as they were presented with problems involving social issues or physics. The MRIs showed that separate regions of the brain activated and deactivated according to the type of problem.
Finding a balance between the use of the two neural pathways could give insight into treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to Jack.
If you think about it logically you might get the feeling this study is onto something.