Sunday, October 19, 2008

Surviving a Conference Part III: Slipping into Alpha States

True Woman ‘08 Conference as a Prototype

As mentioned in this previous prerequisite post, an alpha state of consciousness allows for the bypassing of critical thought. The alpha state facilitates the absorption of ideas and suggestions without the level of discernment that is present during the beta state of problem-solving. If a group or an individual desires to gain cooperation from someone or seeks to persuade an critic, inducing an alpha state of consciousness will greatly aid in accomplishing this objective.

Also, as mentioned previously, individuals move into and out of these states of consciousness while fully awake. If children experience normal growth and development, they remain in an alpha state until they begin to develop beta waves (and abstract discernment abilities) starting at about 8 years of age. However, this state of consciousness can be induced or promoted by a number of factors, according to what we’ve learned from scientific study and recent advances in neurophysiologic imaging techniques. A good conference promotes these effects, sometimes by chance and sometimes by design. In either case, awareness in the reduction in usual critical thinking resources serves as a defense against covert manipulation, should any arise.

Why do most substance abuse programs require at least a 14 day long inpatient treatment program if most of the serious physical withdrawal symptoms subside before that time frame? Because the change in the usual environment provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate and break former behavior. Some of this relates to state dependent learning (when a task can only be recalled or performed in the presence of other stimuli) and relates somewhat to the phase sequence circuits of triggered memory. It is easier to break an addition if the person is removed from their regular environment, and the reverse is also true. Using addictive substances becomes easier while one is still submerged in the environment and subject to the factors that encourage drug abuse. By breaking routines and traveling to new and unfamiliar settings, new learning becomes much easier. It’s novel, fresh and unusual. A religious retreat pulls us away from our usual patterns of sinful living and can be used as a very powerful force for good, like the addict retreats from the environment and relationships that are a very significant part of his addiction. So for good or evil, the unusual conference setting and routine temporarily break our state dependent patterns for a short time.

The break from routine also promotes idealized thinking. If you’ve ever been on a cruise or stayed at a vacation resort, the salespeople who work for these organizations know that they will have a better chance of selling you another vacation package to you while you are still in their environment. When you have started to enjoy the relaxation of the environment for a few days, you become a bit detached from the normal pressures that you would feel in your daily life. If this involves commitments of any kind, particularly when sales are involved, as a general rule, you are best served to postpone your decision.

The in-the-moment excitement of “make your reservations now or you will miss your opportunity” capitalizes on the very human tendency to be influenced by what Cialdini calls “scarcity.” Human nature predisposes us to view things that are limited as more valuable, and we assign more value to opportunities that are limited. When things are less available, we loose freedoms, and this is intensified when we perceive that there is competition for these resources. 

“Get to the book table before our supply runs out” is often heard at such conferences. Many times, there is an adequate supply but this advertising tactic becomes a powerful emotion arousing motivator (ensuring that the vendor will sell out). During this type of setting, it’s important for us to step back from the situation to think about what we really want or need, or whether we are in a position to make a commitment. We should specifically purpose to be reserved and deliberately objective because of the setting and our natural, very human response to “deadline tactics.”

Lack of sleep promotes a slowing of our brain waves simply due to fatigue. I can imagine that many True Women had quite a bit of hustle and bustle on the night before they departed for the conference, planning to travel and planning for their families in their absence. Many people will actually arrive at the conference with a higher level of fatigue than they normally would experience. Most women will spend a great deal of time talking with one another at bedtime and will not go right to sleep, particularly if they shared a room with someone else (all very much a part of the fun of going on a ladies retreat).

Most people, if they attend all of the conference activities, will find themselves getting less sleep than they normally would. The resultant fatigue will produce slower brain wave patterns during the day, and sleep deprivation also decreases both critical thinking and performance. In addition to this, neurophysiologist Michael Persinger notes that sleep deprivation and emotional excitement that persists for more than 3 days produces a spiritual response or a sensed presence of God due to a normal, physiologic response of heightened temporal lobe activity. (Some people are more prone to this experience than others.) People tend to have spiritual experiences on day 3 or 4, depending on how stimulated they become. (Read more HERE.) This is another very serious consideration, particularly when attending a conference that concerns beliefs and spirituality. God could well affect a spiritual experience, but what if man has orchestrated the same thing, inducing a purely physiologic response from nothing but sleep deprivation combined with emotional excitation?

Other factors more directly shift a person into an alpha state. As previously stated, if you must gaze upward to see the speaker or powerpoint presenation so that your field of vision must be redirected more than 30 degrees above horizontal midline, your mind automatically shifts into an alpha state of awareness. You become immediately less critical and easier to “program.” Certain types of music such as repetitive worship choruses also induce alpha states. Florescent lighting and large sources of oscillating radiant light also induce alpha patterns. If the speaker walks slowly back and forth across the platform as they speak, this can also induce an alpha state, particularly if one must gaze upward to see the speaker, like a human pendulum. (Your brain will slow it’s own speed to match any rhythmic stimuli in the environment.) At any conference or meeting, also consider that your regular routine eating patterns will also be somewhat altered. Your hunger or lower blood sugar (not to mention intentional fasting) can both lower your critical thinking ability and may present an uncomfortable distraction that can be manipulated.

Consider that every human being experiences these effects as a natural, physiologic response to the conditions encountered at a conference. Awareness and anticipation of natural responses to the conference setting as well as self-awareness can help you make more responsible choices that are in your own best interest.

Coming in the next post: How behavioral and social factors challenge the critical judgement of a conference attendee..