The basis for my last two posts has been a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex and I have highlighted some of it’s limits.
In his book Your Brain At Work David Rock likens this region to a theatrical stage.
At various times there will be actors on the stage and it is these actors that we are describing when we talk about what we are focussed on.
So right now you may have a reading actor on your stage as you read this, you may also have a musical actor on stage if you are playing some background music, you may have your e-mail sorting actor on stage and / or potentially one or more of many.
But here is the problem with the prefrontal cortex – it’s stage is really really small.
There is only room for 4 actors at a time.
The latest research suggests that we can only hold 4 things in our pre-frontal cortex and even then we can only pay attention to one of these at a time.
If more actors try to climb on, they are either ignored or push others out of the way or get pushed aside themselves. We can only focus on four actors at time. (And as I suggested in “Learn to drive in a day the Brain Friendly way” , each performance has a life span of about 20 minutes before the prefrontal cortex gets tired and needs an intermission.)
Rock suggests this vulnerability in both size and durability is due to the fact that it was probably one of the last regions of the brain to evolve and as such is relatively unsophisticated (for a brain that is)
So what does this mean in practical terms?
As I mentioned last time, my son is learning to drive and I thought I would experiment a bit with this theory of the stage and the actors and the prefrontal cortex and apply it to his learning.
What I found is fascinating.
Before we start lets make it clear that Matthew was in peak state for learning, he had a strong desire to drive so his dopamine levels were very high ( see : ”Desire, Dopamine and Successful Setups”)
However even with all this desire and dopamine running through his brain, during the first hours of Matthew’s driving experience he clearly had too many actors on the stage.
- he had an accelerator actor
- one for the clutch
- another for brakes
- yet another for steering
- another for noticing his surroundings
- another for using the mirrors
- another for operating the indicators
There were probably others lurking in the wings but you get the idea. (Editor’s note: And I know your son is like a lot of 17 year old boys so there was probably a ‘looking out for fit girls ‘ actor too!)
This makes at least seven actors on Matthew’s prefrontal cortex stage, some on stage all the time, some jumping on and off (like the “indicators” actor and the “mirrors” actor) – at least three too many.
And the result was that when he was concentrating on braking for a turn, he forgot to use the clutch (the “clutch” actor had been barged off the stage), when he focussed on using his indicators, he forgot to steer (the “steering” actor had been pushed into the wings).
In our old modeling system we would say Matthew was consciously competent. He is aware of what needs to be done but has to think about it the whole time and is limited to how much he can cope with at any one time.
We would say he needs lots of practice
And we know that with practice people do overcome this apparent stalemate because we eventually drive without our actors being thrown all over the auditorium. So what would Matthew’s brain do to reduce the number of actors jumping on and off his stage and make driving a more natural activity?
The answer has been well researched by Neuroscientists but I don’t think the L&D business has really recognised this yet.
And I will tell you all about it in my next post
brain in words image by labguest stage door image by slimmer_jimmer