Crazy In Love & The Chimp Paradox

Wedding attire.

Looking posh

OK. Life got busy but now I’m back!

This picture is of me at my friends’ Kas and Nalin’s wonderful wedding in Oxfordshire last week (one of things keeping me busy).

The Care Labels project is still very much in my mind and I’m planning to do some research with people who face challenges when trying to express difficult emotions.

I’m really interested to find out the kind of emotions and needs people find it hard to express and how they prefer to communicate.

I am looking at how best to do this, so in the meantime here’s a few other thoughts on emotional expression and psychology.

I have been reflecting on the emotional states and how these relate to two different models of how we think and behave in the world.

Thanks to Kate Norman (@sarahkatenorman) for pointing me the direction of this TED Talk by Dr Helen Fisher – ‘The Brain in Love’.

Dr Fisher studies people in different stages of romantic love, using MRI scans to look at brain activity of subjects, ‘17 who were happily in love, 15 who had just been dumped’.

In those happily in love, the research identified activity in the ventral tegmental (VTA) area of the brain. The specific cells concerned generate and distribute dopamine to other bits of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which relates, among other things, to pleasure.

What is interesting to me about this finding is she describes this activity as ‘way below your cognitive emotions’, in other words we have very little conscious control over whether this area is activated or not.

Dr Fisher likens the effect of this brain activity to the craving and excitement which we experience as when we are ‘in love’ with someone (similar to the effects of some addictive substances).

This might be something that we’d suspected all along but this work has provided some more concrete data on brain activity and love.

For all the self-help books, TED Talks, magazine articles and blogs out there offering to help us meet more suitable partners, make ourselves more attractive and hold onto romantic relationships, this research suggests there will always be a part of the attraction formula we can’t control.

Perhaps this is the reason, like it or not, that so many romcoms are based on this premise – a genre that remains ever-popular.

The second psychological model of the week comes from the excellent executive coach I have been working with for almost a year now.

He has a strong interest in the theory behind what drives our behaviour in the workplace, and recommended that I familiarise myself with the work of Dr Steve Peters – in particular his book The Chimp Paradox.

Steve was the psychiatrist that support the GB cycling team to success in the London 2012 Olympics.

I’ve not yet read the book, but this short film gives an idea of how we can be enslaved to the primal (chimp) part of our brain which has a tendency react to situations before we have a chance to think through a rational response to whatever is happening.

The reason I am connecting these approaches is that they highlight a primal part of the brain in a similar way. However much we know about ourselves and master our emotions there may always be that part of our minds that our beyond our conscious control.

Dr Peters looks to help us to tame our, often too quick to respond ‘inner chimp’ in certain situations, and Dr Fisher’s work suggests that there may be parts of the primal brain that rule our hearts no matter what.

Underlying both of these approach is the need for self-awareness – we may not be able to have complete control over the emotions or responses stemming from the old brain, but by being ready and willing to recognise these feelings we can deal with them in the way that serves us best.