Understanding the Brain Science on How the US Government Shutdown Reduces the Effectiveness of Diligent Decision-Making

 

On December 22, 2018, the longest government shutdown in American history began. Approximately 800,000 employees have been affected with roughly 380,000 workers being furloughed and another 420,000 working without pay. Many of the 420,000 employees being required to work without pay make important, and often split-second, life or death decisions.

This includes the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and air traffic control, to name a few. While these employees are attempting to focus on their job (without pay), they are also pondering how to pay their rent or mortgage and whether to buy food, medicine, or gas.

With each passing day and missed paycheck, the shutdown is causing increased stress and anxiety. It creeps into the workers’ consciousness whether they like it or not.

From a brain science perspective, the likelihood of a major accident increases significantly every day mission-critical government workers are required to perform their jobs without pay, and with no clear indication of when their next paycheck will arrive.

Brain Science for Routine Behavior

From a brain science perspective, the effects of stress on decision making are well understood.  Well-established, routine behaviors such as swabbing luggage for bomb-making material or maintaining buoys and lighthouses is only moderately affected. Behaviors such as these are learned and initiated by the behavioral skills system in the brain that encompasses the basal ganglia, and is best learned and performed without “overthinking it.”

Situational Awareness Is Weakened By Shutdown-Driven Stress

However, cognitive processes and to a higher degree situational awareness are seriously hampered by shutdown-driven stress. Cognitive processing such as routing planes in flight and maintaining defense readiness in ports and on the oceans is strongly affected. Cognitive processing involves the cognitive skills system in the brain that recruits the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobes and relies heavily on working memory and attention. Stress and anxiety engage emotion centers in the brain that appropriate cognitive resources (working memory and attention) from the task at hand.

Situational awareness is especially affected by shutdown-driven stress. Situational awareness involves effectively processing and comprehending the situation around you, and projecting the future state. Situational awareness relies on cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills systems in the brain and involves knowing “what to do, when.”  Situational awareness is critical to Coast Guard, TSA and air traffic control operations because these operations require constant diligence to effectively evaluate the current and future situations that often require split-second decisions and projections into the future. It is this ability to “think on one’s feet” and to make the right split-second decision that is at serious risk when these employees are attempting work and simultaneously deal with the stress and anxiety of going unpaid.

Conclusion

With each passing day the likelihood of a major accident increases. Critical decision-making centers in the brain that are central to the mission of the Coast Guard, TSA, and air traffic control are operating at sub-optimal levels because shutdown-driven stress and anxiety are holding important cognitive and situational awareness processes hostage. This is only going to get worse. Putting politics aside, and focusing exclusively on the psychological and brain science of decision-making, the only solution is to end the shutdown and allow these workers to do their job with pay, and with their full brain processing capacity focused on the job.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Todd Maddox, Ph.D. has more than 200 published articles, 10,000 citings, and $10 million in external research funding in his 25+ years researching the brain basis of behavior.  Maddox is available for comment on this topic and can be contacted via media@amalgaminsights.com

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) and Learning Systems in the Brain

Simulating Learning Processes in the Brain With AI/ML

Key Stakeholders: Chief Learning Officers, Chief Human Resource Officers, Learning and Development Directors and Managers, Corporate Trainers, Content and Learning Product Managers.

Why It Matters: The skills necessary for success in the corporate world are varied and include hard skills, people skills and situational awareness. While L&D is embracing the use of AI/ML to analyze learners’ data and to personalize learning paths, curate effective content, and attempt to better engage learners, what L&D has failed to embrace is the application of AI/ML to model each of these distinct learning systems, and their interactions.

Top Takeaway: Corporate learning vendors would be well served to develop AI/ML models that capture the processing characteristics of the three learning systems in the brain known to mediate hard skills, soft skills, and situational awareness learning. A comprehensive AI/ML model that captured the processing characteristics of each of these three distinct learning systems could be used to develop and test products and tools that optimize content curation, learning paths, engagement, and delivery processes that will differ substantially across systems and tasks to be learned.

Vendors with the Skillset and Expertise to Build this AI/ML Tool: Cornerstone, CrossKnowledge, IBM, Infor, LTG, Oracle, Saba, Salesforce, SAP, Workday, and likely many others.

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and L&D

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The Scientific Case for Augmenting Learning Management Systems with Percipio Experience Services

Leveraging Brain Science to Build a Modern Learning Ecosystem

Key Stakeholders: Chief Learning Officers, Chief Human Resource Officers, Learning and Development Directors and Managers, Corporate Trainers, Content and Learning Product Managers.

Why It Matters: Many companies today aim to deliver a more modern learning experience to their employees, but they’ve already invested heavily in a Learning Management System (LMS) or other tools that may lack some of the learner engagement and content curation features that can be found in emerging Learning Experience Platforms. They need a hybrid solution that provides services associated with a modern Learning Experience Platform that can be integrated with their existing LMS.

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Todd Maddox Ph.D.’s Top Four Scientific Observations on DevLearn 2018

If you have a passion for learning then DevLearn is for you. DevLearn 2018 was quite the event. With excellent keynote addresses, breakout sessions, numerous vendors and great demos it was action-packed. I enjoyed every minute of DevLearn 2018 and I am already looking forward to 2019.

I took a few days to gather my notes and thoughts, and I have a number of observations on DevLearn 2018. I am sure that others who attended DevLearn 2018 will highlight different topics, and acknowledging that I was only able to speak in detail with a dozen or so vendors, here are my Top Four Scientific Observations.

Whether Talent, Behavioral or Data……The Impact of Science Continues to Grow

Relevant Vendors That I Spoke With: Adobe, Allego, EdCast, Inkling, iSpring, Learning Tribes, LEO Learning, MPS Interactive, Mursion, OttoLearn, Rehearsal, Schoox, STRIVR, Valamis

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Allego’s Point-in-Time Video Feedback Trains People Skills in the Sales Brain

If you are in sales, you have likely heard stories similar to this on numerous occasions.

“I have been in sales for over a year now, and I just can’t seem to learn out to give an effective sales pitch. My sales manager tells me that my body language is off, and my verbal skills are unnatural and forced. I read all of the required sales training materials and I have even read other articles, books and blogs on the art of an effective pitch. My manager demonstrates how to give an effective pitch and I have watched many videos of others giving an effective pitch. I feel like I understand the material, but when I get in front of potential clients it doesn’t feel right, and they don’t react positively to me. I am at a loss and don’t know what to do…”

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Qstream Leverages Science to Train Situational Awareness in the Sales Brain

Consider a sales managers all-too-common nightmare…

“I wake up in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat worried about my sales teams’ ability to “think on their feet” and to “read” the ever-changing sales landscape. They know the product in and out. I know I quiz them frequently. During role play they also perform well. However, to a person, when faced with an objection, time pressure, or a resistant client, they choke. It is as if they have forgotten everything that they know. I am at a loss for what to do.”

This is a problem in “situational awareness” and it is common in sales, and many other domains (e.g., healthcare). A sales professional with strong situational awareness has an almost intuitive feel for the current situation and has a very good idea of what is coming next. This individual always remains calm and can retrieve critical product information whether in a routine or non-routine situation (e.g., under time pressure). This individual knows how to act in any situation. They always put their best foot forward, and maximize the chances of a sale, regardless of the situation.

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Why Percipio Excels as a Learning Experience Platform: A Market Milestone

In a recently published Market Milestone, Todd Maddox, Ph.D., Learning Scientist and Research Fellow for Amalgam Insights, evaluated Percipio, Skillsoft’s Learning Experience Platform from a learning science perspective—the marriage of psychology and brain science. This involves evaluating the training content and delivery to determine whether it engages psychological processes and learning systems in the brain effectively.

Amalgam’s overall evaluation is that Percipio is highly effective.
Pecipio’s ELSA (Embedded Learning Synchronized Assistant) addresses the need for organized and easily accessible content as well or better than most competitor’s platforms. ELSA provides just-in-time, searchable and suggested content, all seamlessly integrated into the employee’s flow of work.

Percipio also engages the task appropriate system in the brain. The “watch”, “read”, “listen” framework allows learners to utilize the medium that is most effective in the current context and facilitates microlearning for a targeted and concise understanding of some concept or macrolearning for a deeper dive and understanding. The emphasis on storytelling and scenario-based content, when appropriate, engages emotional systems that upregulate processing in both the cognitive and behavioral skills systems in the brain. The addition of “practice” (to be released in 2019) will facilitate the development of behavioral skills directly in the workplace.

For more information, read the full Market Milestone at http://learn.skillsoft.com/Website-AR-Amalgam-Insights-The-Learning-Science-Perspective-View-Full-Report.html.

Todd Maddox Ph.D.’s Top Four Scientific Observations on HR Tech 2018

HR Tech gets bigger and bigger every year. HR Tech 2018 was no exception. It broke all of the previous records. More importantly, the quality of the offerings, presentations and savvy of the clients continues to grow. I had a great time at HR Tech 2018, and I am already looking forward to 2019. It…

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The “Unlearning” Dilemma in Learning and Development

Key Stakeholders: IT Managers, IT Directors, Chief Information Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Digital Officers, IT Governance Managers, and IT Project and Portfolio Managers. Top Takeaways: One critical barrier to full adoption is the poorly addressed problem of unlearning. Anytime a new piece of software achieves some goal with a set of motor behaviors that…

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Area9: Leveraging Brain and Computer Science to Build an Effective Adaptive Learning Platform

I recently received an analyst briefing from Nick Howe, the Chief Learning Officer at Area9 Learning who offer an adaptive learning solution. Although Area9 Learning was founded in 2006, I have known about area 9 since the 1980s and it was first “discovered” in 1909. How is that possible?

In 1909, the German anatomist Korbinian Brodmann developed a numbering system for mapping the cerebral cortex based on the organization of cells (called cytoarchitecture). Brodmann area 9, or BA9, includes the prefrontal cortex (a region of brain right behind the forehead) which is a critical structure in the cognitive skills learning system in the brain and functionally serves working memory and attention.

The cognitive skills learning system, prefrontal cortex (BA9), working memory and attention are critical for many aspects of learning, especially hard skills learning.

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