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The hot response culture (why reason and compassion should prevail)

By Mal Fletcher - posted Monday, 27 July 2020

Your smartphone has seven million times the memory and 100,000 times the processing power of the guidance computer on board Apollo 11. Have you wondered what we're collectively doing with all that power? Are we spreading more heat than light, or finding constructive solutions?

These are important questions, given the range of hugely significant challenges - and opportunities - we face.

On present evidence, it seems many of us may be more interested in producing heat than light.


According to a number of studies over the past decade, we may have become so enamoured with emotional over-reaction that we're permanently changing the way our brains work.

In her book Stop Overreacting, therapist Dr Judith Siegel used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track how the brain diverges from its normal functions during an emotional over-reaction.

She found that in a normal reaction the areas of the brain responsible for judgement and self-awareness light up at the same time as those responsible for fight-or-flight reactions. However, when we overreact, only the lower function areas fire up, which means we're in danger of acting without proper judgement.

In line with this, some neuroscientists express serious concern that a cultural trend toward emotional immaturity, combined with rapid response technology, will permanently alter the way our brains process events.

Some predict that we may soon become a generation desperately in need of empathy and wisdom, but unable to express either. These warnings have been in place for several years, but we are arguably much closer to this dystopian scenario than we've ever been.

Ten years ago, academics lay at least part of the blame for our shortening emotional fuse squarely at the feet of reality television.


"People can be seduced into thinking that [overreacting] is the most common way of reacting to life when it's not." So said Rodney Carter, a professor of communication studies and government at the University of Texas.

At the height of reality TV's popularity, he noted that the genre "hyped all the emotions". Exposure to a steady diet of reality TV, he claimed, left people feeling that they couldn't just be happy, they had to be ecstatic. They couldn't just be upset, either - they needed to be "violently angry".

It seems we've learned nothing about the dangers of over-reaction since then. Dr Carter's comments are just as applicable to today's social media - perhaps even more so.

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This article was first published by 2030Plus

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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