Downshifting of the Brain

Any anger or fear shifts energy and attention from the neocortex to the reptilian brain. (Pearce, Joseph Chilton. The Biology of Transcendence. VT: Park Street Press, 2002, pp 30-36)

The existence of any behavior-oriented threats and anxiety, coupled with a lack of learner input and control, will downshift learner thinking and lead them to prefer repeated, predictable responses to lower their anxiety. (Jensen, Eric. Brain-Based Learning. CA: The Brain Store, 1995, 2000, p 266)

Creativity can be negatively impacted when the brain is in a downshifted state. (Caine, Renate Nummela, and Geoffrey Caine. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. VA: ASCD, 1991, pp 71-73)

The psychophysiological response to threat, accompanied by a sense of helplessness or fatigue. The downshifted individual experiences a sense of fear or anxiety, not the excitement of a challenge. Downshifting is everywhere in schools. (Poole, Carolyn. Maximizing Learning: A Conversation with Renate Nummela Caine. Educational Leadership, Vol 54, No 6 March 1997. Article.)

Definition: perceptual narrowing triggered when an individual perceives an experience as threatening. Is one aspect of negative stress, distress, which inhibits cognitive functioning. (Caine, Renate Nummela, and Geoffrey Caine. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. VA: ASCD, 1991, pp 63-67)

The concept of downshifting appears to fit with both what is now known about the triune nature of the human brain, and what can continually be seen happening in instructional settings and in daily living. Learning failure results when threat shuts down the brain. The neocortex functions fully only when one feels secure. (Hart, Leslie A. Human Brain and Human Learning. NY: Longman Inc., 1983, pp 108-110)

Some practices, prevalent in education, can trigger downshifting, a form of brain-function regression. (Caine, Renate Nummela, and Geoffrey Caine. Unleashing the Power of Perceptual Change, 1997. Article.)

The lower brain may take the higher brain hostage. When this happens emotional intelligence may be lowered. (Pearsall, Paul, PhD. The Heart’s Code. NY: Broadway Books, 1998, pp 26-27)

Driver-training car metaphor: Normally the cortex does all the steering, When anxiety reaches certain thresholds, the reptilian systems can take over the other set of controls and override the steering of the cortex. Of course the problem is that even after the reptilian brain takes over, the cortex continues steering, assuming it is still in charge. (Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. NY: Seabury Books, 2007. p. 120-121.

Fear of any type shuts down higher modes of awareness and throws the brain into an ancient survival mentality. Attention and energy is shifted to the action brain layer, and the individual tends… (Pearce, Joseph Chilton. The Biology of Transcendence. VT: Park Street Press, 2002, pp 12-14, 32-34)

When you are frightened you cannot access cerebrally stored information. (Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. p 151. CA: Mountain of Love / Elite Books, 2005.)

Most homosexual orientation develops during gestation. Patterns tend to be firmly in place by age 5. Discusses lack of success of change therapies (e.g., push bisexuals to confine behaviors to opposite sex only, or enforce celibacy, or push the individuals to attempt suicide). (Pease, Barbara and Allan. Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps. p 171-186. NY: Broadway Books, 1998.)

The trauma of growing up gay in a world that is run primarily by straight men is deeply wounding in a unique and profound way. Straight men have other issues and struggles that are no less wounding, but they are quite different from those of a gay man. ( Downs, Alan, PhD. The Velvet Rage. Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. p 5-6. NY: Da Capo Press, 2005. 2006.)

Refer to Sexual Orientation and the Brain for additional information.

Learning failure results when threat shuts down the brain. The neocortex functions fully only when one feels secure. (Hart, Leslie A. Human Brain and Human Learning. NY: Longman Inc., 1983, p 110)

Studies by Geoffrey Caine PhD and Renate Caine PhD (1990): Learner thinking is downshifted in the presence of any behavior-oriented threats and anxiety (e.g., typical reward systems). (Jensen, Eric. Brain-Based Learning. CA: The Brain Store Publishing, 1995 and 2000, p 266)

Minimize downshifting in children during learning (e.g., use the least stressful type of shape – round flash cards). (Barron, Maria Almendarez. Surprising Truths, the Implications of Brain Research. Web article.)

Students who feel out of control of the learning process tend to downshift from cortical learning to the limbic system’s rote learning...the cortex essentially shuts down and only learning of simple skills or rote memorization can occur. (Howard, Pierce J. PhD. The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. NY: Bard Press, 2000, p 506)

Downshifted people can do some things well like rote memorization, because the brain perseverates under threat and repetition provides a sense of safety when you feel helpless. Repetition is compatible with traditional teaching. (Poole, Carolyn.Maximizing Learning: A Conversation with Renate Nummela Caine. Educational Leadership, Vol 54, No 6 March 1997. Article.)

The phenomenology of psychomotor epilepsy suggests that without a co-functioning limbic system, the neocortex lacks not only the requisite neural substrate for a sense of self, of reality, and the memory of ongoing experience, but also a feeling of conviction as to what is true or false. MacLean, Paul D., PhD. The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions. p 578. NY: Springer, 1990.)

Refer to Stress and the Brain for additional information.

Males seem to react more sensitively to stress than women at every age. Men tend to block out signs of stress (out of touch with their bodies), while women are more aware of them. (Goldberg, Herb, PhD. The Hazards of Being Male, pp 111-113. NY: Nash Publishing, 1976.)

Stress and threat cause the brain to downshift, which reduces the opportunity for neuron growth and causes learning to be inhibited. (Singh, Dalip. Emotional Intelligence at Work. India: Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2006, p 189)

Students in a stressful environment (e.g., reward and punishment based systems) can have great difficulty accessing cognitive thought in the cortex – brain tends to focus attention toward the reptilian brain that houses fight/flight reactions. (Van Tassell, Gene. Downshifting – the effect of stress on learners. Article.)

Reflexive and reflective are alternative labels to explain the brain phenomenon of downshifting. (Sylwester, Robert. The Downshifting Dilemma: A Commentary and Proposal. Article.)

Downshifting occurs when the individual detects threat in an immediate situation and full use of the great new cerebral brain is suspended, while faster-acting, simpler brain resources take larger roles. The degree of downshifting reflects the degree of threat as perceived by the individual. (Hart, Leslie, A. Human Brain and Human Learning. NY: Longman Inc, 1983, pp 108-110)

When people feel threatened they downshift their thinking, feel helpless, don’t look at possibilities, don’t feel safe to take risks or challenge old ideas, and have limited choices for behavior. (Poole, Carolyn. Maximizing Learning: A Conversation with Renate Nummela Caine. Educational Leadership, Vol 54, No 6, March 1997. Article.)

Any type of threat can trigger the brain to downshift. A threat is anything that triggers a sense of helplessness in the individual. (Caine, Renate Nummela, and Geoffrey Caine. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. VA: ASCD, 1991, pp 72, 86)

The neocortex of the brain tends to shut down (downshift) under threat, and survival mechanisms are activated. The concept of downshifting appears to fit with both what is now known about the triune nature of the human brain and what is observed in instructional settings and activities of daily living. The neocortex functions fully only when one feels secure. (Hart, Leslie A. Human Brain and Human Learning. NY: Longman Inc, 1983, pp 108-110)

Whole-brain teaching is designed to manage the emotional climate in the classroom and to reduce the downshifting or primal thinking that occurs during distress. The teacher may use any number of strategies to relax the learners. (On Purpose Associates. Whole Brain Teaching. Article.)

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