Updated: Mar 20
First, we need to understand that as complex as our brains are, they are essentially designed to keep us safe. The amygdala, or the “fast brain” quickly assumes that something or someone different is a threat and reacts based on what the brain has previously identified as a threat. The prefrontal cortex, or the “slow brain” takes the time to process something or someone that is different and responds.
When we encounter a situation or person that is different from our normal, and when we stop to think clearly and choose how we respond to different situations and people, that's what's called operating by the "slow brain." The amygdala or the “fast brain” is located at the base of the neck, while the prefrontal cortex or the “slow brain” is located at the front of the brain.
Just as an aside, I find it interesting that the “fast brain” is located at the base of the neck where it can kind of hideout and run on autopilot. That’s how you get home on your same route and not register what you’ve seen and wonder how you got home so fast.
Whereas the “slow brain” is located at the front of your head and is ready to help you make sense of your world if you’re willing to be intentional about how you will ACT. More about that later.
The task of thinking with your slow brain actually requires more energy than the "fast brain“ being on autopilot. Which is why we tend to operate on autopilot most of the time. It’s just less mentally taxing.
It can be likened to the initial stages of the pandemic when people were stocking up on toilet paper. We saw everyone else stocking up on toilet paper and the fast brain took over and got on the bandwagon.
Conversely, thinking about how much toilet paper we already had and being realistic about how much more we really needed, then buying according to the REAL need vs. the FALSE SENSE of need, is an example of the “slow brain” at work.
You may be wondering how this ties back to taking the scariness out of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging work. It’s really very simple. Too often in our lives, we consider people who are different from us as a potential threat to us, and therefore that perceived threat is scary. And, unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to think this way. This is how we’ve developed our biases – biases we ALL have, even if they differ from person to person.