December 30, 2013

Genetic Memory - Our Preconditioned Mind

Hi Guys,

In the past few months, I have read at many places that Human Brain reacts in a manner that cannot be rationally explained in certain situations. Many psychologists explain that this may be due to ‘Genetic Memory’

What is a Genetic Memory? It is the memory that has been passed on to you from your ancestors through genes. Generally, your brain remembers things that happens to you after a certain age and makes you react to certain situations based on that. For example, read the words below

                                                Banana                                                                                 Sick

Your mind correlates an incident that happened when you were sick and ate banana or vice versa. This is because of the memory that is stored in your brain.

But, there are situations where you react for no particular reason. When you meet a new person, your mind quickly builds an impression on the person. You might think that, it is due to the memories from the past. But, actually even if you meet a new person who is so completely different, you tend to create an impression and that tends to be correct more than 90% of the times. And how long does your mind takes to build that impression – 1/5th of a second. Amazing, isn’t it?

How does this happen? No one knows how. The most plausible explanation is that it has been passed to you by your ancestors. Remember Darwin’s ‘Survival of the fittest’. For us to survive we need to know who our enemy is and hence it has been the most important part of our evolution. This principle has been studied even candidates standing in elections. Most people select people based on their intuition and feeling. Dangerous, isn’t it? It happens in interviews too. It has been found that to correct a wrong first impression, you need nine good impressions. No doubt that it is said, ‘First Impression is the best Impression’

I am currently reading the book ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain. In a part, she explains why humans are afraid of Public Speaking. The initial stage of Human evolution was in the forests and deserts of Africa. Humans had to be sharp to defend from Animals. Speaking was not an integral part of Human Beings for so long. It has become difficult for many people to come out suddenly and speak.

The most interesting concept from ‘Genetic Memory’ is ‘Loss Aversion’. Human Beings have been conditioned to avoid Losses. It again goes back to the Darwinian Theory. To survive, you cannot lose something. Loss Aversion works in many interesting ways. Consider an example – A dangerous virus has spread in a hospital. You have two different drugs with the following outcome

A: 100 people can be saved
B: 20% probability that 500 people can be saved

Which option would you choose? Most people would go with Option A. Now consider the options C, D

C: 400 people would die
D: 80% probability that 500 would die

Now which option would you choose? Most people would choose Option D. Interestingly options A and C are same as well as B and D are same. When it comes to survival, we choose the definite one and when it comes to loss, we tend to choose a more probabilistic one.

It reflects in our day today behavior. Before entering into a work, we are neutral. But after entering the work, you tend to think more about positives of the work. Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ would have described a beautiful situation. There are twin brothers A and B. When they join work, they are given two options – ‘One extra leave per month or additional salary of $1000’. But only one person can opt for an option. Initially, both options seem equal to the brothers. After some time, the firm says if they want to interchange their positions, they can. Now, the option with one extra leave means losing $1000 and it doesn’t look good. Similarly, losing an extra day off also doesn’t sound good. So, they remain in their positions.

It has been found that, in such situations, the loss looks highly valuable and human mind wants something 2.5 times its size to compensate (i.e. $2500 for the extra leave or 2.5 days leave for the extra $1000). Intriguing, isn’t it? That is why we often find out the advantage other people have. But, if we are put into that position, we forget the advantages and speak about the sufferings. Our mind reminds us of the things we lose and not what we gain.

It is interesting to know, how deeply ingrained our thought process is, isn’t it? As Brad Pitt once said, ‘I’m one of those people you hate because of Genetics. That is the truth’

Happy Reading!

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