The key to having healthier relationships, says Ferguson, is to give the brain enough time to process information before reacting. His book, Reptiles in Love, describes how marital relationships go sour because couples react immediates to perceived threats before thinking the situation through or asking questions.
Steve Busalacchi, a Madison South Rotarian, covered Dr. Ferguson's presentation and wrote the following blog post:
It may only take a fraction of a second, but spouses can go to war with each other over facial expressions. "Full combat mode before saying a word," says Don Ferguson, PhD, a psychologist and author who specializes in group dynamics and family relationships. He says the brain immediately processes information and can enter into a state of paranoia after seeing a pained expression on a spouse's face as he or she arrives home after a stressful day. "It's then when we're prone to interpret things in the worst possible way," Ferguson explains. What did I do?
Although this response isn't good, he assures us that it is natural because that's how the brain works. Change represents a threat to the human brain, and we can respond with worry, acting out, withdrawal, etc. If we can slow things down, we can calmly pause and inquire about what might be going on.
In the workplace, stress over problems can lead to groupthink where small subgroups of employees align and assess blame. "The worst form of groupthink is scapegoating,"
Politically, Ferguson says vilification is a sure sign of groupthink. Those on one side or the other are so sure they have all the facts necessary that there is no need to discuss anything with others. Hence, we have a stalemated Congress and a barrage of TV ad accusations from politicians who refuse to talk to each other. "Creative reasoning goes out the window," Ferguson laments.
The way out of the morass in any of these relationships, says Ferguson, is to find where we hold leverage, as opposed to power, in making a difference in promoting understanding.
Busalacchi, author of White Coat Wisdom: Extraordinary doctors talk about what they do, how they got there and why medicine is so much more than a job, is working on another book that examines quirky names in the news. It will be out early next year.