Infobesity: is Your Church Guilty?

In today’s world we’re bombarded with information overload. One author coined this problem infobesity (Pearrow, 2012) to describe this data overload. When we get too much data our thinking brain shuts down to new information. British psychologist Dr. David Lewis coined a term to describe what happens from infobesity as ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome.’ Symptoms include burnout, a compulsion to constantly check email or the web, poor concentration, hostility (Elwart, 2013), and anxiety caused by over stimulating our brain’s emotional centers.

dataoverload

In 2012 this amount of information was produced every single minute and it grows each year (Elwart, 2013).

  • 72 hours of video posts
  • 347 blog posts
  • 700,000 Facebook entries
  • 30,000 tweets
  • 2 million e-mails sent
  • 12 million text messages

Peek-a-boo Porn in a Pastor’s Life

Peek-a-boo Porn in a Pastor's Life Dr. Charles StoneIn my studies on the brain, I was intrigued to read this quote from one of today’s most well-known neuroscientists, V. S. Ramachandran, in his book The Tell-Tale Brain. (Kindle e-book location 4219)

“A picture of a nude woman seen behind a shower curtain or wearing diaphanous, skimpy clothes-an image that men would say approvingly, ‘leaves something to the imagination’ can be much more alluring than a pinup of the same nude woman.”

Similarly he writes, “many women will find images of hot and sexy but partially clad men to be more attractive than fully naked men.” (i.e., the Chippendales)

He bases this belief on this neuroscience fact: our brains find pleasure in searching for solutions to problems or puzzles. The puzzle to be solved in the case of a partially clothed woman is to ‘fill in the visual blanks’ with our imagination. It adds an extra dimension of appeal. Many well-known artists have even used this principle when drawing images of the partially clothed.

Much has been written about the dangers of porn. Most pastors today agree about such danger. And we’re often cautioned to not click to porn sites nor to look at pornographic magazines. I totally agree with those cautions.

Yet, I wonder if peek-a-boo porn might be just as damaging to a pastor’s thought life and ministry as that which most would agree meets the criteria of porn? And since peek-a-boo porn doesn’t meet the traditional porn definition, I wonder if we pastors might too easily convince ourselves there’s nothing wrong with it.

What might qualify as peek-a-boo porn?

  • A well-known sport’s magazine swimsuit edition.
  • Some women’s magazines that show skimpily clad women (i.e., those magazines that visually yell at us at the grocery store check-out)
  • Commercials from a well-known women’s lingerie company.
  • Movies or TV shows that prominently shown scantily clothed women.

I wonder if Jesus has peek-a-boo porn in mind when he said these words.

But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.Matt. 5.28 (MESSAGE)

So if peek-a-book porn can be as destructive as traditional porn, how can we protect ourselves from it?

Here’s a few suggestions.

  1. If your wife subscribes to women’s magazines that feature scantily clothed women, ask her to keep them out of plain site.
  2. Decide beforehand that you will physically look away when a lingerie commercial on TV pops up or when the camera zooms in on a cheerleader during a pro football game.
  3. Pre-screen a movie before you go see it. I highly recommend www.screenit.com. It’s a helpful site that gives a detailed analysis of the language, sex, and violence in almost every movie.
  4. Teach your church about Biblical virtues and the benefits of modesty. Explain how the brain works. I know this could be touchy, but if you are a male pastor, consider involving your wife in that teaching.
  5. Get the book Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by Dr. William M. Struthers into the hands of your men.

Do you agree that peek-a-boo porn can be as destructive as the other kind? Or do you think I’m simply being too Puritan? How have you protected yourself from peek-a-boo porn?


“I just learned about the dangers of peek-a-boo porn.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


Related posts:

How a Leader’s Brain Works, Part 2

In my previous post I explained how two basic systems operate in our brain. Here’s an excerpt to bring you up to speed.

“The brain’s overall operational process incorporates two sub-processes: the X-system, from the ‘x’ in the word reflexive and the C-system, from the ‘c’ in the word reflective (Lieberman, 2006). The X-system engages the parts of the brain that act spontaneously and impulsively (our emotional centers, the low road). The C-system engages parts of the brain that act with intention and think before acting, our thinking center (the prefrontal cortex, the high road route). This system also helps regulate emotional reactivity.”

In today’s post I give an example to illustrate how this process might work in real life.

Let’s say I’m hiking in the woods and I see what I think is a snake I’m about to step on. My short route response, called the low road (Foley, 2003) quickly shuttles information to my emotional center (limbic system) and then to my peripheral nervous system. Among many body responses, the peripheral nervous system increases blood flow and respiration and instantaneously directs the muscles in my foot to avoid stepping on the snake. It helps me quickly respond to the perceived danger.

At the same time the long route process (the high road) sends that signal to my sensory cortex and then to my thinking center. It then recruits the brain’s memory center, to check for any data about snakes already stored in the brain’s memory. It then sends its assessment back to the emotional center. Because my emotional center processed this as a snake, my body has already instantaneously reacted to direct me to plant my foot in a different place, any place but on the snake.

However, as my thinking center assesses the situation it compares it to maps already in the brain about a snake’s color, size, movement, and so on. In relative terms it’s slower than the low road, but only a fraction of a second slower. It may determine that the rattlesnake was simply a coiled vine that my emotional center interpreted as a snake. As a result, it begins to down-regulate my emotions and my body’s response. I now don’t have to worry because vines don’t bite. Although my body is still tensed and my heart rate has jumped, my thinking center now tells my body it can calm down and not be alarmed. In diagram form it looks like this.

How a leader's brain works, part 2. Dr. Charles Stone

This same process can happen in a meeting with your board. Someone may say something that immediately feels like a threat (the low road, the X-system). But as your thinking center assesses what he says it helps you realize that his words don’t truly present a threat. So instead of internally stiffening up in fear or verbally reacting in defense, your brain can help you calm down (the high road, the C-system) so that you can stay fully engaged in the conversation. The key is to pay attention to these internal signals. The low road provides the quick response, needed at times, and the high road response, although slower, more accurately assesses the situation.

This same process occurs with any intense emotion. Your brain will act the same way if you unexpectedly bump into Tom Cruise or Gwyneth Paltrow at the grocery store or even meeting someone you don’t know someone at a party. As with seeing a snake, your heartbeat will jump, your respiration will increase, and your blood pressure will rise. You brain’s emotional center will initiate the stress response even if our ‘survival’ is not threatened, although not looking dumb in front of Tom might qualify as a survival situation.

In my 33 plus years in ministry leadership I’ve sometimes taken the low road and reacted in anger to a staff person, become defensive at someone’s critical comment, or acted like a jerk in the heat of the moment. In those cases, my brain’s X-system overrode its C-system and I gave in to my emotions. I didn’t wait long enough for my thinking brain to inform my actions so that I could respond in a Spirit-directed way.

When the X-system gets overloaded, two processes occur that can suppress the C-system: hormones enter our blood stream and neurotransmitters flood our brain. When that happens we can respond in these ways.

  • Emotional accelerators can diminish our impulse control.
  • The reactive parts of our brain can take over and we can become defensive.
  • Objectivity can diminish.
  • We don’t listen well to others because our brains can’t concentrate on other’s viewpoints without prematurely framing our own responses.

And the writer of Proverb speaks to what happens when we act impulsively rather than respond thoughtfully. (NIV)

  • It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. (19.2)
  • It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows. (20.25)
  • There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking. (29.20)

What indicators in people you’ve been around evidence that their X-system overruled their C-system? What does the X-system look like in leaders?


“I just learned how two systems in our brain affect how we act and lead.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


Related post:


References:

Foley, D. (2003) Emotions and the Brain: Fear. Science. Available from: [Accessed 7 March 2013].

Lieberman, M.D. (2006) Social Cognitive Neuroscience: A Review of Core Processes. Annu. Rev. Psychol., (58), pp.259-89.

How a Leader’s Brain Works, Part 1

How a Leader's Brain Works  Dr. Charles StoneIn my last post I stated that it’s important that we pastor-leaders understand how our brain works so we can lead at our best. I explained how our emotions sometimes hijack clear thinking which in turn diminishes good leadership. In this two-part post (part 2 follows tomorrow) I describe how two fundamental brain processes affect us and our leadership.

First, we can view the brain functioning with an overarching organizational principle and a fundamental operational process. Dr. Evian Gordon, a neuroscientist, developed what he calls the Integrate Model (Gordon et al., 2008). This model describes the brain functioning around a basic organizing principle, Minimize Danger/threat-Maximize Reward. The terms, toward and away, correspond to danger/threat and reward. The image that comes to mind for a person experiencing an away response would be his fists clenched as if to fight, his arms crossed, or his arm stretched out with his palm facing you as if to say, “Stop!” An image for a toward response might be someone with her arms extended to you as if to say, “Welcome!”

In other words, our brains tend to operate in a conscious and an unconscious mode that either seeks out reward (a toward response that is open, energized, and willing) or tries to avoid danger/threat (an away response which is defensive, fearful, or closed). I think the apostle Paul practiced this concept as he focused on the future. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3.13-14, NIV)

The brain’s overall operational process incorporates two sub-processes: the X-system, from the ‘x’ in the word reflexive and the C-system, from the ‘c’ in the word reflective (Lieberman, 2006). The X-system engages the parts of the brain that act spontaneously and impulsively (our emotional centers). The C-system engages parts of the brain that act with intention and think before acting, our thinking center (the prefrontal cortex). This system also helps regulate emotional reactivity. This chart briefly summarizes the fundamental differences between the two.

When we combine the organizational principle with the operational processes, here’s how our brain works, simply described.

When we face danger (a threat), the brain processes information in two directions: the short route, sometimes called the low road, and the long route, sometimes called the high road. The thalamus plays a critical role as a master information relay, or middleman, because all information from and external stimulus (or an internal self generated one) flows through it. It shuttles the information about this stimulus to other parts of the brain. Here’s what happens, all in a split second.

  • Information about the threat first enters our brain through our sense organs and travels to the thalamus, the master relay, which shuttles information in two directions, toward the emotional center (short route) and toward the sensory cortex and then to the higher thinking centers (long route). The information gets to the emotional center slightly quicker than it makes it to the thinking centers.
  • As the thalamus relays the emotional content to the emotional center it sends the non-emotional content through the memory center (the hippocampus) to the brain’s thinking center (the prefrontal cortex) where it assesses and compares the new information to previously stored knowledge.
  • If it finds any prior knowledge, it sends it back to the memory center to incorporate this new information.
  • New mental maps then get combined with old ones and are then sent to memory storage.
  • By this time, the emotional center may have already directed the body to respond. Even so, the thinking center will weigh in at some point to either dampen the emotional center, confirm the emotional center’s response, or direct the body to do something in response to the stimulus.

In my next post, I’ll give an example of how this works in real life.


“I just learned how the leader’s brain works.” (Tweet this quote by clicking here).


Related post: When Pastors Lead from their Lizard Brain


References:

Gordon, E., Barnett, K.J., Cooper, N.J., Tran, N. & Williams, L.M. (2008) An ‘Integrative Neuroscience’ Platform: Application to Profiles of Negativity and Positivity Bias. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 7 (3), pp.354-366.

Lieberman, M.D. (2006) Social Cognitive Neuroscience: A Review of Core Processes. Annu. Rev. Psychol., (58), pp.259-89.

Has Your Emotional Brain Hijacked your Leadership?

Has Your Emotional Brain Hijacked Your Leadership? Dr. Charles StoneGreat ministry leaders keep their emotions in check. Unfortunately, when we don’t keep them in check, they can hijack clear thinking and good leadership. Yet, when we understand how our brain and emotions work, such insight can help us manage them in God honoring ways. Below I give a quick summary about the part of our brain that affects emotions.

Many parts of the brain influence our emotions, but the part I call the Panic Alarm (the limbic system, especially the amygdala) contributes the most. The word limbic means ‘edge’ and it got its name because it lies on the edge between the outer part of the brain and other important internal structures. Its primary structures include the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus. The Panic Alarm strongly influences our emotional system, sometimes called the X-system. In my next blog, I’ll explain our two basic brain systems that include the X-system.

The amygdalae (I use the singular form amygdala) are two almond shaped structures that play a critical role in our emotions for several reasons. It’s constantly on the lookout for problems and receives sensory input from many other parts of the brain. It stores and catalogs emotional memories. And both the hippocampus and the amygdala are involved in memory, the former primarily for facts and the latter for emotions.

For example, your hippocampus helps you remember the names of your elder or deacon board members. The amygdala tells you which ones you like. Because the amygdala is so highly connected to other parts of the brain, when it gets overly activated (the Panic Alarm goes off) it can diminish clear thinking and diminish thoughtful leadership.

An external real or perceived threat (an angry board member), a memory (when we were called to appear before an emergency board meeting), imagining ourselves in a threatening situation, or ever anticipating a threat can incite our Panic Alarm. The flight-flight-freeze-appease response originates from here. It’s also vital in helping us form healthy emotional attachments, especially at an early age.

Another component of the limbic system, the hypothalamus, acts as a controller to the master hormone gland, the pituitary gland. When we’re under stress it releases the stress hormone cortisol into our blood stream and neurotransmitters into our brain. Our body reacts very quickly to the neurotransmitter release but slower to the hormonal release. And chronic stress can damage our body and even kill brain cells (neurons) in the hippocampus. However, since the hippocampus is one of the few structures that can grow neurons, called neurogenesis, when stress decreases and cortisol levels out, the brain can regrow neurons here.

Another significant part of the brain, the insula, also influences emotions, and informs the amygdala. It maps our body’s internal feelings by receiving continuous input from over 100 million neurons (Armour, 2004) that line our hollow organs like our heart and intestines. It takes this information and represents how we feel in relation to our outside environment. Intuition is affected by this so called ‘second brain’ (Hadhazy, 2010). It can give us a ‘gut’ feel, butterflies in our stomach, or a ‘heartfelt sense’ we sometimes feel about something or someone. It’s also finely tuned to feel disgust and to sense unfairness.

I believe God used my insula to help me make a difficult decision years ago. I had been leading a poorly performing staff member that I had hoped I could reform to fit our culture. I kept telling myself that I could change him. But nothing seemed to work. I thought I needed to release him but I just couldn’t seem to pull the trigger. However, one morning I woke up in the middle of the night and knew in my gut I had to release him. I believe my insula helped me make that decision.

Related to the insula, it’s interesting to note that although the Bible never uses the word brain, it often uses the word for bowels to refer to the deep interior of our heart, soul, and mind. Although the Biblical writers didn’t explicitly understand the inner workings of the brain, God gave them keen insight into how our bodies and brains actually worked in real life.

Has your emotional brain every hijacked your leadership? What has helped you keep your emotions in check?


“I just learned how my emotional brain can sometimes hijack my leadership.” (tweet this quote by clicking here).


Related posts:


References:

Armour, J.A. (2004) Cardiac neuronal hierarchy in health and disease. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 287 (2), pp.R262-R271.

Hadhazy, A. (2010) Think Twice: How the Gut’s ‘Second Brain’ Influences Mood and Well-Being: Scientific American [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed 28 February 2013].