femme Neuroscience Notes

Some Topics

Sequences and Plans

Sequences, plans and cause-effect concepts are rooted in movement and journey metaphors. The term "linear' has become popular to describe behavior that is goal oriented and sequential. The shortest journey between two points is a line. Linear thinking is supposed to be analytical and some even claim it occurs on one side of the brain and not on the other. The opposite of linear thinking is supposed to be spatial, somehow multidimensional and freer than linear thinking.

Speculations about hemispheric specialization in terms of linear-analytic and spatial-artistic are misleading. If you understand that the root sequencing ability in all animals has to do with moving around in complicated and somewhat dangerous spaces, then thinking about sequences and plans becomes more productive. Everyone who goes to the store to buy groceries has a goal and a plan. The plan is implemented by following a sequence of steps. If you have gone to get groceries many times the sequence is stored in memory and you do not have to think about it. We can describe your plan as intuitive, spatial and holistic; you just go to the store and get groceries.

If you are new to town and this is your first trip, your strategy is quite different. Going shopping for the first time is different from going the tenth time. A good idea is to get directions from someone who has gone to the store many times. They tell you how to get there and they may draw you a map showing the waypoints along your path. Males prefer a map and females prefer verbal instructions that emphasize landmarks as waypoints. Waypoints, as every navigator knows, are intermediate destinations along a travel path that allow you to confirm that you are heading in the right direction. Some waypoints are decision points. You have to identify a landmark and decide to turn left or right.

Some would describe implementing the first trip to the store as “linear and analytic” because you need more conscious effort; the directions and the sequence you follow may have to be written down in words and recorded in a diagram that shows lines connecting A to B to C. Most human sequences follow the same pattern of transforming from “linear and analytic” as you learn into “synthetic after you have practiced a great deal. Practice and experience transform "linear analytic” tasks into “spatial synthetic” tasks.

The brain works harder and operates differently when the task is new. Modules in both sides of the brain are active with every new sequence; when the sequence is practiced repeatedly, brain activation becomes more efficient, more localized and sometimes more lateralized. Another observation is that younger brains are more efficient and older brains are less efficient, using more diffuse and bilateral processing to solve problems.