In How to Stay Sane (2012), British psychotherapist and author Philippa Perry shows you how to better nurture relationships while using self-observation, “positive” stress and the power of stories to achieve and maintain your mental health.
You might think of yourself as a reasonable person who makes fairly logical decisions. Yet this perception is mostly an illusion!
We’re not as reasonable as we might think we are, as we’re mostly ruled by our right brain, the home of human emotion and instinct.
At the age of two, the brain’s right side, as it develops, becomes more active than the left side. It’s in this right brain that your personality is formed, guided by cues from your environment.
When we’re young, our social environment is largely made up of our main caregivers. So your personality, in terms of whom you trust and with whom you bond emotionally, is formed early on based on these social surroundings.
The brain’s left side, home to language, logic and reason, develops mostly from around age three. By this time, however, it’s long in the shadow of the right in terms of influence. This is why it’s so hard to overcome strong emotion with cold logic – your right brain remains dominant.
Why then do we think we are inherently reasonable creatures? Well, it’s because the left brain essentially “tricks” us into thinking this way.
When our right brain makes an emotional decision, our left brain in retrospect comes up with a reason that makes the decision seem logical. This process is called post-rationalization.
Neuropsychologist Roger Sperry conducted an experiment in which he triggered the command to “walk” in a subject’s right brain, in a way so that the left brain was unaware.
Interestingly, the subjects walked when instructed. Yet when asked why they decided to walk, they came up with random reasons, such as wanting to get a drink of water or stretch. The subjects weren’t lying, of course – they believed the justification offered by their left brains!
So now you know that how you reason may not be totally reliable, given the relationship between your right and left brains. Let’s examine in this context then why we act the way we do in stressful situations.