Our most recent sermon was all about common "Jedi Mind Tricks" we're doing unknowingly everyday! We studied the concept of Limbic Resonance and how this relates with a related issue, Cognitive Dissonance.
- We're influencing each other subconsciously all the time - one name for this is 'Limbic Resonance'
- Cognitive dissonance involves tying your ideas to your sense of self, when the idea is challenged, it activates a physiological "fight-or-flight" response, or "amygdala hijack"
- You can't disarm cognitive dissonance using force, people just dig in further, but you can use THE FORCE - our subconscious empathetic resonance.
Detailed Sermon Notes/Transcript:
"Each time we meet another human being and honor their dignity, we help those around us. Their hearts resonate with ours in exactly the same way the strings of an unplucked violin vibrate with the sounds of a violin played nearby. Western psychology has documented this phenomenon of 'mood contagion' or limbic resonance. If a person filled with panic or hatred walks into a room, we feel it immediately, and unless we are very mindful, that person's negative state will begin to overtake our own. When a joyfully expressive person walks into a room, we can feel that state as well."
You might remember the famous scene, it’s in Star Wars. Released in May of 1977… i was about to be born a few months later, so I didn’t get on board until Return of the Jedi in 84!
In both of these films, main characters are able to use “Jedi Mind tricks” to influence the thoughts or emotions of those near them.
I don’t want to convince you today that you are capable of this type of mental magic, no something even more extreme - that you’re already doing it all the time!
I remember first reading of a strange study in McGonigal’s “Science of Compassion”, in which a person in a waiting room did not know when the other person was “beaming” them compassion, but their stress response changed anyway.
On some subconscious level, we pick up emotional cues from one another. These are generally not being delivered to our conscious mind, but the whole process unfolds in an invisible dance from subconscious to subconscious.
I’m not aware of research on olfactory cues in humans - outside of romantic situations, that is - but there’s a great degree of research by people like Paul Eckman and the Gottman Institute on how we’re affected by each other’s micro-expressions - tiny, fleeting facial expressions that we don’t consciously pick upon. All this micro-level info adds up to create a sense of vibe.
Some specialists can learn to make these subtle cues conscious - translating tiny signs of danger into an accurate assessment of a situation requiring action.
Naturals at emotional intelligence have an opposite ability - the capacity to put almost anyone at ease.
One name for this wordless communication is “Limbic Resonance” - This term was pioneered in a book called A General Theory of Love, where the authors describe it as:
"— a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other's inner states."[
Another term for this is “Empathic Resonance”, and sometimes “Empathic distress”, which is an important aspect of this in the study of compassion. This is the ability to feel the hurt of another as if it was your own. It’s a prerequisite for compassion, but one cannot stay there, one has to then be able to distance their self from these feelings and offer help from a sovereign sense of separate self-hood.
As mammals and hominids, this empathic resonance is our great strength. The Limbic system is the “emotional part of the brain” and this allows for mammalian bonding and mutual care, the social instincts which Darwin thought of as Homo Sapiens’ greatest strength.
We can see this in the necessity for close relationships for an infant to thrive, and we can see it in the intensification of laughter if others are laughing at a comedy show - which led to the development of laugh tracks on TV. We see it in contagious yawning and contagious smiling.
Cognitive dissonance, on the other hand, seems like the exact opposite of Limbic Resonance.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone mired in cognitive dissonance? It can be a dreadfully tedious exercise of willpower to persevere through!
Cognitive dissonance is simply the tendency to hold onto one’s position despite evidence to the contrary. Even worse, cognitive dissonance can bring with it the “backfire effect” and this is where you’re almost better off NOT bringing up contrary evidence because the more alternative points of view or debunks you offer, the deeper one digs in to their position.
How does this work? Well oddly it’s all wrapped up in your survival circuitry. This point is crucial for us to understand. Cognitive dissonance happens when we become so identified with an idea that we associate it with our sense of self. There is then this amazing misfire that happens in our brain where if someone attacks our philosophical position, we experience it as if they’re attacking “me”. What ensues is a full activation of the “fight or flight” response.
Here’s another opportunity to learn some terminology about the limbic system, the “amygdala hijack”. This is Daniel Goleman’s term for when the emotional/survival system takes the controls away from our advanced pre-frontal cortex.
It makes sense then, doesn’t it, why someone in cognitive dissonance can go from an apparently reasonable modern human, to cornered animal unwilling to explore other perspectives. In the worst cases, raising their voice, using name calling, or even becoming physically violent.
It seems as though there’s no emotional resonance going on here, but there’s a surprise!
It turns out that a big portion of cognitive dissonance is all about limbic resonance.
This is why experts tell us that if you want to help someone out of cognitive dissonance - like the work people do to help people deprogram from cults - you need to treat them gently.
This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? If cognitive dissonance is related to fight or flight response, we would want to make sure that we’re not giving a person signs that they’re under threat.
This is actually well known in terms of education - our brains work better to pick up and store new or complicated information when we’re relaxed, at-ease. Perhaps like our ancestors would be hearing teaching stories around a communal fire?
Unfortunately, while this makes sense conceptually, creating an open and soothing environment is usually the last thing on our minds when confronting cognitive dissonance. Why is this so? Because the type of things we get cognitive dissonance about are often religious or political belief systems that might cause one to harm their self or others.
It makes sense that we’d feel a sense of urgency when we try to communicate with someone expressing these views - they’re triggering our survival circuitry - we’re worried about the good of the tribe, our own safety, or even the safety of the one expressing the dug-in view.
From Neil Degras Tyson’s Masterclass on scientific thinking and communication:
Crystal example - cultivating effective skepticism
If got this crystal that heals you with energy
Great, I’ll buy it!
Both are intellectually lazy. Instead, try questions:
What type of energy is it?
What diseases is it known to affect?
How do we know, has there been research?
How is this “energy” perceived?
We have a chance here, through questioning, to practice a master tool of communication. To shift out of trying to get the other person to see things our way, and instead work to be able to see together.
In this case, the outcome might not be they are convinced that their crystal has no healing power, and you may not be convinced that it does
But you can come to understand each other’s perspective MUCH more clearly
Why’s that important…. Keep listening!
Think of a dug-in uncle and practice crafting your argument
Ask them questions rather than just saying they’re crazy
Name-calling doesn’t contribute to expanding scientific literacy
Climate change - well, how do you feel about sea-level rise?
Would you move to a place where hurricane incidences have increased?
What do you think is the cause of that?
What it boils down to is the Limbic Resonance thing - we’re more attuned than we know. Dr. Dan Seigel even refers to it as “interpersonal neurobiology”. What this can mean is that if you come into the conversation with a need to prove yourself right or bring the other around to your way of thinking….. Guess what they’re likely going to be most concerned with!!!
On the other hand, some of us have had those miraculous experiences where we managed to change our own state to a more open and accepting one, and saw how our conversational partner followed suit.
It’s happened to me often enough for me to become convinced that there really is a science to it we could learn to master!
My hope is that we can make these “miraculous” occurrences commonplace. We can train so that instead of making our differences something that leads to stonewalling, backlash effect, and greater division, we can make it an opportunity to understand each other more deeply.
Even when our viewpoints don’t get any closer, we’ll at least have done our part to share from the heart. The truth is that the most effective form of teaching is always by example. When we try to shout another down and bully them to our side, they don’t learn our arguments, they learn bullying. If we want our arguments to have any room to land, we must first teach the primary lesson - that it’s safe to let down our guard and learn together.