Thursday, December 2

Facundo Manes: “We make most of the decisions with the autopilot”


Updated

The neurologist Facundo Manes brings together in ‘Being human’ (Paids) the great advances in brain science in recent years and analyzes what influences decision-making and collective behavior

The neuroscient
Argentine neuroscientist Facundo Manes.SANTI COGOLLUDO
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Facundo Manes was a young medical student when he first saw a brain in a glass jar filled with formaldehyde. It was in his first anatomy class. I thought of all the dreams, the loves, the hates of that person that had ever existed. I never had any doubts that it is all there, remember.

Since then, this neuroscientist expert in psychiatrist who founded the Institute of Cognitive Neurology in Buenos Aires has not stopped investigating an organ that, in many respects, remains a mystery (we still do not know what consciousness is) and that in the last decade and a half has experienced an extraordinary time of discoveries. Manes has condensed them into Be Human. Everything you need to know about the brain (Paids), written during confinement and with a conclusion: collective intelligence is superior to individual, we need each other. Chronic loneliness kills more than environmental pollution and as much as obesity. In five years the most cool be the human contact. Being hooked to the mobile is not well seen, he predicts.

Manes has developed a good part of his career as a neuropsychiatrist in the United States. Today, back in his native Argentina, he continues to see some patients (especially those with Prkinson and Alzheimer’s, who are usually depressed) and dedicates much of his time to outreach. I am interested in the idea of ​​how Latin America can get out of poverty and reach the First World. We will not achieve it with raw materials, but with human development, which is the main wealth of a country, he maintains.

That is why in his essay he dedicates an important part to notions such as the social brain, the biases that determine collective decisions and the impact of social norms. There are two decision-making systems: one is rational, deliberate, analytical, which we sometimes use. Not all day, because it requires cognitive spending and our resources are not unlimited. But most decisions we make without thinking too much, are based on previous learning and experiences. We run on autopilot more than we think, aim. And that has direct consequences on collective behavior.

A very clear example of this is when here came out a minister saying that we should eat more vegetables and less meat. It is clear that even if the message is correct, many will not listen to it. Until now, public policies have been made by economists, jurists and civil servants, but I think that every time we will see more experts in conduct participating in them if we want them to be really effective, he explains.

The reasons why we do things are not always clear, even when what drives us seems to be altruism. In Germany few people donated their organs when they died, while in Austria, a country similar in history, character, culture and per capita income, s. The explanation is in how it was asked: in Germany, in the form to obtain the driving license there was a question about it: if you ticked the box, you donated the organs. Nobody marked her for default and that’s why the donation rate was so low. In Austria the question was posed backwards: you had to check the box not to donate your organs. So everyone donated them. It has also always been argued that if money was paid to donate blood, donations would go down because the financial aspect would seal off the psychological gratification of the act of donating.

Another example that Manes likes to explain is the the men’s toilets at the Amsterdam airport. They had a problem: they all peed outside the urinal. If they had put up a sign at the entrance with the message: ‘please don’t pee out of the toilet’, probably nothing would have happened. What they did was draw a fly in the urinal, very real looking. Since then, almost all the males, when urinating, pointed without thinking to the fly. What I mean by this is that our cognitive resources are limited and we tend to reserve them. And the current world, with all its distractions, what it does is put a tax on those resources because we are all day with networks and whatsapps.

The good news is that the human brain is the only organ that can be self-optimizing. We can reflect on the way of thinking and improve it. The brain creates reality, so we can change the way we feel based on how we think.

Lying, manipulation and the capacity for self-deception have also been engines of evolution that have led us to have the wonderful brain that we have today, maintains Manes, who affirms that we lie to live and procreate. We all lie, except autistic people, who cannot and are literal. We all fool ourselves and we think we are more handsome and intelligent than we are. In reality, we should be much less optimistic. Only depressives are realistic, assures the neuropsychiatrist.

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