The Mediation Times

 

Stressed brains rely on habit

by Amanda on August 1, 2009

An article in The Scientist today has got me thinking. It is about a new discovery about the part of the brain that operates to achieve “goal-directed” actions. It says

“Exposure to chronic stress causes alterations in brain anatomy that may compel rats to rely too much on routine, even when a change in circumstances calls for a change in behavior.”

This development really interests me because it has significant implications for our understanding the behavior of parties at mediation and for understanding why mediators may become more evaluative or “expert” when stressed. I.e. default to expertise, techniques and approaches from a previous life in order to achieve “the goal” of settlement.

People typically had been thinking about chronic stress affecting circuits in the frontal cortex and circuits in the hippocampus. To look at the striatum, which controls a lot of our moment-by-moment behavior, is a really new direction.

and

Chronic stress can also result in other behavioral symptoms, such as deficits in memory or spatial navigation. These changes are believed to be triggered by the release of corticosteroids, causing neuronal reorganization, primarily in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). When the researchers measured the volume and density of various brains structures in stressed and unstressed rats, they found several differences. Most notably, the prelimbic cortex (PL) of the mPFC and the dorsomedial striatum (DMS) — both implicated in goal-directed actions — were reduced in size in stressed rats, while the dorsolateral striatum (DLS) — necessary for habit formation — was enlarged, suggesting a neurological mechanism for how stress affected their behavior.

Have you ever forgotten what you were going to say at the end of a long mediation or lost your way to the bathroom?

The mediator adds considerable value to negotiations by encouraging and supporting the parties not to do what they might do on automatic pilot.  We can’t be stressed if we are to going to help them do something differently because we are for the most part in the moment-by-moment behavior mode managing the process appropriately for the benefit of the parties.

As far as mediators are concerned the research findings go some way to explaining why mediators can often default to language, approaches and interventions that they know better than the ones they learned on their mediator training course.

I am looking forward to hearing more about his development.

For those who would like to learn how to get out of a stressed state I can recommend emWave by HeartMath. The software and hardware allow you to see the effects of stress and provide immediate feedback so you can develop quick techniques to restore “coherence”. It is now available for Mac  as well as PC.

heart rhythm - stressed

heart rhythm - stressed

heart rhythm - not stressed

heart rhythm - not stressed

software provides immediate feedback on techniques for developing coherence

software provides immediate feedback on techniques for developing coherence

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