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Social Norms and Lazy Brains

Why are patterns of behavior so powerful for good or bad? As Todd Rose has written in his new book, “our brains are lazy.”

On a neurological level, our reliance on norms is tied to the fact that our brains are energy hogs. Neuroscience has shown that 95 percent of our cognitive activities are unconscious, and these whirring hard drives in our skulls—roughly the size of your fists put together—consume about 20 percent of our physical energy. If you work on a tough cognitive task such as learning a foreign language or playing a musical instrument, you’re using about one hundred more calories per hour than you would watching television (unfortunately not enough to replace going to the gym). But most of your brain’s efforts go toward just keeping your body functioning normally.

Because our brains require so much fuel, norms play a critical role. Like beasts of burden, they help to carry much of our cognitive load so that we can use the executive and decision-making parts of our brains to take care of more immediate business. By providing a basic level of predictability, norms are like trusty autopilots, sparing us additional work that would otherwise cause our neurological hard drives to overheat.

Possible Preaching Angle:

As Christians we are instructed to follow the example of the Lord Jesus and his teaching and avoid the behavioral patterns of the world. With the help of the Holy Spirit, our minds can be trained to follow the norms of Christlikeness, rather than our former way of thinking in the world.

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