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

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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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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The Learning Science of Situational Awareness and Patient Safety

An Interactive Webinar with Qstream CEO, Rich Lanchantin On Wednesday, July 17, 2018, Amalgam’s Learning Scientist and Research Fellow, Todd Maddox, Ph.D. and Qstream’s CEO, Rich Lanchantin conducted a live, interactive webinar focused on the critically important topic of situational awareness and patient safety. Achieving the highest quality in patient care requires a careful balance…

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Optimizing Sales Enablement and Sales Training by Leveraging Learning Science: A Brief Primer

Key Stakeholders: Chief Sales Officer, Sales Directors and Managers, Sales Operations Directors and Managers, Training Officers, Learning and Development Professionals

Top Takeaways: If you want an efficient sales team you need to provide them with the right tools and train them effectively. If you want sales enablement and training tools that are highly effective they need to be grounded in learning science – the marriage of psychology and brain science. Many sales teams and sales focused vendors have access to these tools. What is needed is an effective way to leverage these tools to maximum advantage. This is where learning science comes in. In this report, I briefly outline the learning science behind sales enablement, people skills training and situational awareness.

(Note: This report represents the first step in an ongoing research initiative focused on critically evaluating the effectiveness of sales enablement and sales training solutions on the market. My goal in this research is to critically evaluate and accurately reflect the current state of the sales enablement and sales training sector from the perspective of learning science.)

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