Why Uncertain Times Lead To Poor Decisions And Radical Behavior is a research-based article by David Amerland published on thesnipermind.com blog

Nothing happens out of nothing. If we become personally as well as politically more conservative as we age, as at least one study suggests, and if we lean towards authoritarianism over time the cause of these changes must be found in the combination of external factors that shape us and internal factors that drive us. The outside world becomes more complex over time, while our own internal one inevitably degrades and declines with age. Both then become challenging to us, which suggests we go looking for the simplest solution available to us, just to stay afloat. 

But let's not jump the gun here. Let's break everything down from the ground up and build a case that serves to further our understanding of the data the studies reveal.

Let's start with the fact that we are the products of our environment. The opportunities, chances and resources that are available to us which then either hinder or aid our own unique mix of nature and nurture. But within any environment we are only as good as our internal state permits us to be. This means that who we are, what we become, how we think and what actions we take are shaped by the twin forces of society (external) and neurobiology (internal). 

Both of these, for us, are rich sources of information that our brain uses to establish context, assess threats, identify potential rewards and determine the best behavior we need to engage in so we can navigate each set of circumstances they present us with. Every time we make a decision our brain engages in a complex back-and-forth between subcortical (a.k.a. deep brain) structures and the prefrontal cortex that plays a key role in decision-making and stress management. 

This back-and-forth dialogue is required to determine the kind of decision we will make and the type of action we will take. To arrive at that decision the brain weighs the complexity of outcomes that arise from our goal-directed and habitual behavior

To better clarify the struggle this mental back-and-forth entails consider that goal-directed behavior is defined as “behavior [that] hinges on the ability to focus on relevant information and ignore distracters” and habitual behavior is “…defined as behavior that is displayed automatically on the presence of a goal, that is, a direct goal–action link that is not preceded by consciously developed intentions.” The latter follows “Thorndike's law of effect which states that "...behaviors followed by a reward or reinforcement are more likely in the future, whereas behaviors followed by a punishment are less likely in the future.” 

In other words what we decide to do when faced with a complex situation depends on the outcome of  the interplay of messages exchanged between subcortical and prefrontal brain structures. It would be tempting, at this point, to suppose that we are: A. Rational animals B. Have an abundance of energy and C. We persist in our internal calculus of situations until we have arrived at the best possible decision we can make. Sadly, this is not how we work.

Description on fluidity of self in day by day case.

We Are Neither Rational Nor Energetically Secure

We are not machines. Our logic is affected by emotions. Although we perceive ourselves as an entity that has some kind of steadfastness, from a neurochemical and biological point of view we are a process that is in a constant state of exchange with its surroundings in an attempt to establish some stability (called homeostasis) The process of us is energetically costly even before we take into account the artificial environment of our societal constructs. 

We all have different points of tolerance. But we all have a breaking point when what we experience inside and outside ourselves is “too much”. When the energetic load we feel inside ourselves exceeds our capacity to handle it the brain engages in mental shortcuts such as satisficing, essentially a mental heuristic that seeks to reduce the energetic load we feel by reaching for the fist available “good enough” solution we can see. 

At times of high anxiety and perceived uncertainty the energetic load we experience from our environment affects us directly. This is then expressed in both our decisions and our behavior. The experience of a higher energetic load inside and outside ourselves can lead us to accept simplistic solutions which we expect will lower the energetic cost of our existence.

In the world of politics this can lead us to lean towards authoritarianism. In the world of marketing it can lead to marketing-message-avoidance unless the mediating effects of “perceived mental benefits and electronic loyalty, online trust, and electronic loyalty” have been established. 

In our personal conduct it can make us shutdown, avoid the news, exhibit overreactions to specific circumstances, engage in prejudiced behavior and a sense of awe that has a negative (and paralysing) effect on us.

None of this bodes well for the future of our liberal societies, for businesses or for our own mental health. 

However, a problem understood is already a problem that’s partially solved. 

Three Distinct Approaches That Work In Times Of Stress

Whether it’s politics, society, community or business the principles that guide the solution are largely the same although the execution details will vary in each case according to context. 

  • Deliver clear messages that withstand scrutiny, decrease anxiety and provide a sense of confidence in the solution they propose.
  • Strive to establish trustworthiness and create trust. These are attributes that reduce perceived uncertainty and help relational exchanges of every kind, take place.
  • Do not conflate problems with threats and avoid creating (or giving in to) fear. Although we may love the immediate response that's elicited by fearmongering, it also generates a chaotic environment we can never hope to guide, much less control.

Not exactly rocket science, right? And nothing really new either. Yet these three simple approaches to messaging in any context in our current environment suddenly feel fresh and powerful which speaks volumes about how far we’ve dropped and how much we’ve lost. We need to work to rise again and get everything back. 


Go Deeper: 

Intentional book by David Amerland The Sniper Mind by David Amerland
Take Control Of Your Actions.    Make Better Decisions.

You can read a sample of The Sniper Mind chapter here.

Get Intentional on Audible.