This is your brain on confabulation.

We all know our brain has many components, and we might even think we know what they are and do… So why can’t we just convince our brains to do what’s good for us??? Luca Dellanna, author of The Control Heuristic, thinks the answers to all of these questions are in our heads, or rather in our basal ganglia. In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts chats with Dellanna about his book, how our brains might best be thought of as corporations, and how to think about and change our impulsive behaviors.

Dellanna contrasts what he calls our analytical brain with our emotional brain, and it’s the latter that serves as the “gatekeeper” for our decision-making processes. All those regions of the brain we’ve heard about do in fact communicate with each other, says Dellanna, but they also suffer a sort of knowledge problem in that none has the whole overview. According to Dellanna, the various regions see the output of other regions, but they know nothing about why they produce that output.


1- How do the functions of the analytical and emotional brain differ, according to Dellanna? How does the “confabulation” between the two help explain compulsive behavior?


2- What does Dellanna mean when he says, “We think we have a decision-making problem, but we have an action-taking problem.”  What are some of the techniques he suggest you can use to help deal with your brain’s emotional gatekeeper and secure better habits- the ones your analytical brain knows you want to adopt?


3- Why is this seemingly antagonistic brain system good for us, according to Dellanna? What does he mean when he says, “Our brain is not the best brain to survive in the modern world, but the ancient one?”


4- How do addictions produce stress? Roberts describes addiction as a “strange mix of autonomy and lack of autonomy.” What does this mean? How do the analytical brain and the emotional brain interact with regard to addiction, and how might this help explain why some people seem able to overcome their addiction more easily than others?


5- The conversation concludes with a brief discussion of heuristics. Dellanna notes the more distant or abstract they are, the more false and/or dangerous beliefs we can hold. Yet it still can be rational to imitate these rules, even in the absence of any understanding of them. How can this be??? What are some additional examples that might illustrate Dellanna’s point?