Another description of how metaphor works in influence

More from The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull. Writing about the amydala as a center for detecting danger and responding with fear (especially to potential loss of control), Zull comments:

"In some situations the amygdala becomes less active than normal, and negative emotions seem to diminish. . . .[this] seems to happen when the cortical brain becomes involved in cognitive tasks. For example, if someone puts her mind to solving a puzzle, the amygdala becomes less active."

Perhaps this is part of the reason that telling a story is so effective at both minimizing conflict and increasing influence. One of the basic explanations for the role of metaphor in increasing suggestibility has always been that it keeps the conscious mind busy so that the unconscious mind is more open to positive suggestions.

In biological terms, the amygdala produces our unconscious response (fear, for instance) which is then transmitted to our conscious minds as the feelings associated with the response (being aware of being frightened). Telling a story is a cognitive activity that engages the conscious mind in solving puzzles - puzzles of 'what will happen' within the story and puzzles of 'why is this relevant to me?" outside the story. The very act of solving the puzzle makes it less likely that the story will trigger negative emotional responses and automatic censoring.

This biological explanation has the advantage of both reinforcing the Ericksonian practice and making more precise the roles of conscious and unconscious process. It suggests that the conscious mind does not need to be distracted so much as it needs to be actively engaged in understanding and integrating material, and that it is this engagement that produces the effect of 'letting one's guard down.'


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