Sunday, April 12, 2015

The airport - and my brain

I was at the airport sending my parents off, back to Toronto.  On my way to the bus, I looked down at the arrival level from the departure level, about 10 meters above.  It looked clean and tidy, calm and quiet, peaceful and pleasant, movements slow and orderly.  I stood and watched for quite a while, thinking to myself that it could be a place for some contemplation. 

As I descend the escalators to the arrival level, however, I was suddenly hit by a totally different sensation.  People started to loom large in my face.  Noise came at me from all angles.  Movements became fast and chaotic.  I smelled food of all kinds.  I thought to myself: I have to get out of here.

It is the same airport, same scenes, same people.  Only seconds apart.  Why does it give me such radically different sensations?  Suddenly, what I was reading in Walter Mischel’s “The Marshmallow Test” came to mind.  A “hot” arousing system that focuses on the immediate, close-up, emotional features and impulsive reactions.  And a “cool” cognitive system that focuses on the abstract, at-a-distance, informational aspects and thinking reactions. 

When I was standing 10 meters above, the distance allowed me to exercise my cool cognitive system. When I came down the escalators, the shortened distance triggered my hot, reactive system.  I would like to thank Mischel’s well-researched book for helping me understand myself, and how people (specifically our brains) work.  

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