Thursday, January 24, 2013

Automated responses

I get bored easily, and one of my favorite games to keep me entertained is to try and discover the automated responses of the people around me.  (I know it sounds silly and weird, but trust me, it can be fun :)

An automated response is something you do without thinking when given a simple prompt.  Like Pavlov's dog who drooled when he heard the ring of a bell, we all have automated responses.  Some responses are common to most people and others are personal.

A good example of an automated response is when you sing part of a song or jingle and someone else chimes in to finish it.  You did not ask for them to sing with you, and they probably didn't consciously decide to join in.  It was just an automatic response to the stimulus.  The fun part is when you can liven up an otherwise boring meeting with such responses.

Automatic responses don't just make us finish jingles, they control most of our lives.  The truth is that we think very little and let our reptilian brain do most of the work.  The reptilian brain isn't a higher level thinker, rather it is conditioned to choose the familiar, to avoid danger, and to play back automated responses.

Automatic pilot, where you can't remember what you had for breakfast or are confused why you drove to the office when you were headed to the grocery store, is just a result of the reptilian brain playing back an automated response to a sequence of events.  Nothing was unusual about the situation, so there was no reason to engage the rest of the brain to think about what you were doing or remember it.

There is a practical application for automatic responses that goes beyond interrupting meetings and driving.  You can use automated responses to prompt desired behaviors.  "Because" is a word that almost everyone associates with a valid reason.  Most reasons are decent, so when we hear "because" after a request, our brain has a tendency to switch into auto and go along with the request.

Because is just one example of a shared prompt.  There are many other prompts, but with great power to influence comes great responsibility.  If you're interested in some other common automated responses, let me know.  In the meantime, see if you can find any unusual automated responses from your co-workers and share them in the comments.  

(I have a friend who will recite a 2 minute long comedy sketch when asked, "Hey, can I ask you a question?")