Mechanical Thinking Inhibits Empathic Thinking, And Vice Versa

06 Jan


More strangeness from the realm of cognitive science:


Two lines of evidence indicate that there exists a reciprocal inhibitory relationship between opposed brain networks. First, most attention-demanding cognitive tasks activate a stereotypical set of brain areas, known as the task-positive network and simultaneously deactivate a different set of brain regions, commonly referred to as the task negative or default mode network. Second, functional connectivity analyses show that these same opposed networks are anti-correlated in the resting state… tasks requiring social cognition, i.e., reasoning about the mental states of other persons, and tasks requiring physical cognition, i.e., reasoning about the causal/mechanical properties of inanimate objects. Social and mechanical reasoning tasks were presented to neurologically normal participants during fMRI. Each task type was presented using both text and video clips. Regardless of presentation modality, we observed clear evidence of reciprocal suppression: social tasks deactivated regions associated with mechanical reasoning and mechanical tasks deactivated regions associated with social reasoning.

So it seems that when we’re thinking of things in terms of objects, we (or rather, our brains) shuts of the empathy circuitry. And then when we’re thinking in terms of people, our brains turns off the sort of “machinery” circuitry.

This is an odd coincidence with the evidence that testosterone injections dampen oxytocin. Oxytocin, of course, is the social/trust/empathy hormone. It would be especially weird if figuring out mechanical properties of inanimate objects subtly increased testosterone, or if thinking about social reasoning increased oxytocin.

This is also oddly a pretty strong reification of the two different thinking styles of System 1 and System 2; what I analogize as the thief and the wizard and further as the intuitionists and the rationalists.

(H/t PsyBlog)

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Posted by on January 6, 2015 in cognitive science


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