Beware neuro-stuff!

You can see it everywhere these days - neuro this and neuro that. Wherever we look there are adverts for training your brain, neuro-leadership, neuro-coaching, even, I see today, neuro coffee! What are we to make of all this?

On the surface, it's really compelling. We feel that if the word neuro is included then it must be good and we should go for it.

Certainly, neuroscience has made huge discoveries in the last thirty years or so, especially since the development of imaging technology made it possible to see which bits of the brain are activated by certain activities and even thoughts. This can be seen by imaging where blood flow goes in the living brain.

Yet there is an odd phenomenon going on alongside all this. There has even been a research paper written about it, by the title of 'Deconstructing the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations', which suggests that we are more likely to believe an assertion if it's in the context of the word neuro or neuroscience.

So there have arisen a number of 'neuro myths' - for example, that the right side of the brain deals with creativity and the left with analytic thought. It's much more complicated than that, and in fact, both sides do both, in different areas. Then there is the thought that excessive screen use leads to 'internet junkies' because it stimulates dopamine release, which is involved in the development of addiction - again there is much more to it.

And we still hear the old chestnut about the triune brain: we have, so the story goes, three brains of different evolutionary age. The reptile brain was supposed to come first, covering instinctive and automatic functions, then the mammalian brain which handles emotion, and finally the superior neocortex which is where our higher functions reside, such as reason, judgment, decisions.

Nope. It seems that is not substantiated by modern research either! Shame, as it's an appealing thought!

However there is much useful learning and application to be gained from rigorous and reputable neuroscience, and to that end, I refer you to Dr Sarah Mackay's work at the Neuroscience Academy, which I'm happy to say I have just joined. But you don't have to join up: there is lots of excellent free content and regular tips that you can access on her blog.

Meanwhile, if any of the following factors apply to something excitingly neuro that you come across, test it with the following thoughts:

Does it refer to neuro or brain science merely in passing or has it something reputable and referenced to say? Who wrote it? Are they truly independent? Does it sound too good to be true? e.g. The one true cure for Alzheimer's disease?

Coaching certainly looks at many of the same areas as neuroscience, as it is essentially concerned with changing behaviour and perception. Just to be clear: this translates to physical changes in the brain. So if we are referring to or using neuroscience we'd better be sure we're doing it right.

Because what's more important than to take good care of your own brain? Not very much!

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Written by Barbara Bates - Supporting Professional People under Pressure

Barbara is an experienced and qualified personal and executive coach with a professional background in health, social care and nursing. She works particularly with professional people under pressure to improve resilience, well-being and effectiveness. She also offers Skype/phone sessions, and online coaching programmes, especially about well-being.… Read more

Written by Barbara Bates - Supporting Professional People under Pressure

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