Book Review: The Psychological Brain
“Almost everything humans do originates in the brain, therefore if we want a better life and a better world we need to know more about how the brain operates,” writes Herbert J. Greenwald.
While we may understand the biological and physical workings of the brain, what remains largely a mystery are the psychological processes that often operate outside our awareness.
In his new book, The Psychological Brain: A new paradigm for understanding how the mind works, Greenwald, a renowned professor and recipient of numerous distinguished awards, uncovers the psychological systems that characterize almost everything we experience, from depression and anxiety to biases, prejudice, and decision-making.
One example is a concept known as psychological homeostasis, which when exceeded, leads to depression, panic, ecstasy, and addiction.
Psychological Roots are another psychological system that characterizes our needs, goals, beliefs, expectations, concerns, interests, and abilities. While some psychological roots are innate, such as those for safety, stability, and interpersonal connectedness, many others are developed through experience.
Greenwald contends that Psychological Roots help drive hidden sequences, such as thoughts, beliefs, and overt behaviors. He writes, “Change — such as the result of successfully treating a psychological disorder — is much more effective when pertinent Psychological Roots are satisfied and relevant stimulus conditions are coped with, compared to expressing feelings, medicating symptoms, or attempting to change behavior directly.”
While we are largely unaware of what goes on in our minds, and this lack of knowledge has often led us to incorrect conclusions, uncovering the hidden Psychological Roots of our interactions is the basis of resolving conflict, especially those that had previously seemed impossible.
“Understanding behavior requires unearthing Psychological Roots that lead to thoughts, feelings, and actions. Hence, understanding why someone does something requires more than knowing that person’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and the stimuli that impact the individual,” writes Greenwald.
The metaphorical DNA of psychology, Psychological Roots often lead to hidden sequences that begin with internal reactions, such as perceptions, judgments, evaluations, attitudes, attributions, and conclusions, then trigger emotions, moods, and reactions.
Changing behavior requires understanding and attending to the Psychological Root that is driving it. Greenwald writes, “It is useful to assess behaviors and internal reactions, however, the key to treating the cause of an outcome effectively is modifying or overriding the pertinent Psychological Roots and stimulus conditions.”
While Psychological Roots can appear as assumptions stored in long term memory, attitudes, beliefs, customs, expectations, ideologies, values, principles, motivations and standards, and act to satisfy concerns, needs and drives such as the desire for connection, attention, or protection, they can often be uncovered through role play, questions about expectations, concerns, desires, beliefs and interests, and using open-ended questions.
Greenwald writes, “When a root has been accurately identified, the person is likely to recognize it instantly and might have a noticeable reaction, perhaps by agreeing or manifesting some non-verbal behavior such as exclamation or a change in breathing, mood, appearance or movement.”
While behavior follows Psychological Roots, it does not always appear logical. One example Greenwald gives is the father wanting his son to perform at a high level and continually telling him how he is failing.
Counter-effective thinking, reacting, and behaving like this may be in accord with Psychological Roots, yet at the same time, lead to the opposite of the desired reaction — the son may end up lacking confidence and underperform.
“Our internal reactions — thoughts, evaluations, judgments, decisions, and emotional reactions — seem appropriate to ourselves since those reactions are based on our Psychological Roots. However, those reactions and the behavior that follows from them might be counterproductive and other people might consider those reactions to be illogical or irrational,” writes Greenwald.
Failing to understand Psychological Roots leads not only to inaccurate assumptions about behavior, but when also refusing to compromise and seek compatible solutions, to interpersonal conflicts.
Every time a decision is to be made, there is the possibility for conflict, as each decision represents a choice between competing concerns. The key to a successful resolution, writes Greenwald, is “satisfying the Psychological Roots of both individuals that are the basis for the conflict.”
“Win-win” solutions can occur when the Psychological Roots of both individuals are obtained, receptiveness is assessed, possible solutions are offered, and attempts are made to solidify solutions and prevent backsliding.
Identifying, understanding, and satisfying Psychological Roots lies at the heart of overcoming conflicts, cultivating social influence, teaching and learning, making decisions, generating constructive change, treating psychological disorders, and even overcoming prejudice.
Offering a new way to understand behavior, even those behaviors which defy logic, The Psychological Brain is a good resource for those looking to improve communication, have more social influence, overcome conflict, or help treat psychological disorders.
The Psychological Brain: A new paradigm for understanding how the mind works
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, July 2018
Paperback, 508 pages