The Brain is an Automatic Learning Machine

I heard this about the brain:

It is an automatic learning machine.

Our brain is constantly taking in information. It makes connections between things. It becomes “learned”. Sometimes we are conscious of our learning. Sometimes we aren’t.

Unfortunately, we can “learn” things that aren’t necessarily so. We’ve all had the experience of thinking something was “true” or “real”, that didn’t happen to be true. Some of those “learnings” end up resulting in bias, prejudice or stereotype.

Here’s something else about the brain: while it learns automatically, it is difficult to “unlearn” things. Once we learn stuff, it becomes instinctive. We don’t lose it easily.

So, the outcome is that when you want to “unlearn” something, you have to be intentional about it.

Will Cox and Patricia Devine research biases at the University of Wisconsin. They say most biases are habits of the mind. There’s a three step process that they developed  to “unlearn”:

  1. Detect. You’re awareness of the thing being unlearned is high. You figure out when it is triggered. You choose to concentrate on it when it arises.
  2. Reflect. You think about the root cause of the learning. You drill down on where, how and when you learned it. This is an objective process. You think about it from many angles. You take control of the learning.
  3. Reject. You discard the thought and replace it with new, more accurate learning.

This process may need to be repeated to complete the purge. Apparently, the automatic systems in our brain have control until we take it back.

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PalletOne CEO Howe Wallace
PalletOne Inc.
Company President, Howe Q. Wallace

Since 2005, he has been sharing his thoughts on the organization, leadership, and communication in an online daily note to teammates called Daily with HQ.


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