The Brain: Why much of what you think you know is WRONG

Science Marches On
and older information becomes obsolete

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

The Importance of Life-Long Learning

It’s an essential endeavor for everyone with a brain to continue to seek out and pay attention to credible information that will help us delay – or avoid – the onset of dementia, preserving cognitive functionality as we age.

However, it is especially important for scientists, treatment and helping professionals to keep up with new information and incorporate it into their theories, tests and treatment protocols.

And yet . . .

I have been beating this drum – while seeking new, scientifically valid information for over 30 years now – in my futile attempt [so far] to get some traction toward effective care for those of us with Executive Functioning disorders.

A concept known as Confirmation Bias explains part of the reason that my efforts [and those of others] have, for the most part, failed – but timing is everything.

Related Post: Why we HATE to Change our Minds

Getting updated, substantially more accurate information to “the professional down the street” simply takes far too long, as the continual explosion of partially-informed new coaches, bloggers and pinners confuse and confound the issue further.

They all seem to be well-intended, albeit at least partially misguided, spreading obsolete information all over the internet at an unprecedented rate.  For those who make an effort to continue to learn, it seems that the more that new information might persuade them to update their theories and methodologies along with their information base, the more tightly they hold to cherished beliefs – the very essence of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory makes predictions that are counter-intuitive — predictions that have been confirmed in numerous scientific experiments.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept or the term, you will probably be surprised to see how widely it applies. Once you learn to pay attention to it, you will also be surprised at how it changes your behavior as well as your perception of your world.

Embracing its reality might also encourage you to investigate brain-based information further, allowing your mind to incorporate the latest in scientific findings, rather than repeating information that is, sometimes, decades old.

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What IS Cognitive Dissonance?

Dr. Carol Tavris is a social psychologist who is the co-author of a book explaining confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. 

In an informative and entertaining interview of Tavris doubly posted to the Books and Ideas Podcast and the Brain Science Podcast (recently renamed Brain Science with Ginger Campbell, MD), cognitive dissonance was defined as the discomfort that we feel when we are faced with evidence that contradicts our beliefs.

Most of us hate it when our beliefs are challenged. Once we are invested in a decision or opinion, we tend to resist changing our minds – no matter who we are.  If someone presents evidence that does not support or agree with something that we believe, we will feel an uncomfortable  state of dissonance — and we will be strongly motivated to reduce it.

The easiest, quickest way that most of us attempt to reduce that hateful conflict between old information and new is to dig in and defend our current beliefs.

Tavris explains that our unconscious drive to reduce cognitive dissonance between, for example, the belief that “I am an educated, compassionate person of expertise” and “I hold a belief (or committed an action) that might make it seem as if I am not” is so strong that we tend to close our minds to updated information that could help us make significantly better choices in the future.

Understanding and remaining aware of the principle of cognitive dissonance allows us to recognize it in ourselves, our loved ones, our co-workers and colleagues, and our doctors — as it gives us better skills to be able to predict when it is likely to appear so that we can arm ourselves against it.

Tavris goes on to explain:

“You’re going to know, after you make a decision, that you’re going to want to justify that decision. That’s fine, just so long as you don’t do so much justifying that you keep yourself from being able to change your mind later if you need to.”

She goes on to share her belief that “our job as science educators is to show people the joy of the discovery.” It is not simply taking away a belief — it is replacing it with “a better belief, a more useful belief, a more exciting and helpful belief.”

“To understand what isn’t so,” she says, “can be as exciting, and important, and useful as to understand what is so. And I think that’s the attitude that we might want to work on conveying—those of us in the skeptical and scientific world—which is that science is about moving us forward toward better ideas.”

For an earlier article offering another explanation of cognitive dissonance and the importance of attempting to work around it, I believe you will find the following article helpful and highly informative (along with a list of fascinating books informing the topic):

Confirmation Bias and the Tragedy of Certainty


Implications for brain-based ADD/EFD Coaching

Even some of the foundational brain-based information I once taught to the students of my A.C.T. Training, the ADD-focused coach-training curriculum I developed and delivered through The Optimal Functioning Institute™ during the years when mine was the only such training available, is now obsolete. 

Newer scientific findings have shown that much of what we once thought we knew about the brain was discovered through the use of older technology that was not precise enough to connect all the dots.  Newer technology has resulted in updated information, with surprising implications.

Based on conversations with – and articles by – some of the students of some of my former students (who are now training coaches themselves), some of the resultant coach trainings still seem to be based on what their instructors learned at OFI, many years ago now.

It probably will not make me very popular to say so, but their coaching techniques can only be as comprehensive as their information base is current.

Stay Tuned: In coming articles, I plan to explain and update some of the mistaken principles that are still being passed along, hoping that a great many of the newer coaches will recognize their discomfort with cognitive dissonance and put it aside long enough to allow themselves to update their information base — understanding that newer information might mandate newer ways of working.

Help for the rest of you

Those of you who are not coaches or helping professionals will be able to benefit from updated information as well.

As I said in an earlier article, Why you can’t, and how you CAN:

“The more you know about Executive Functions, their disorders,
and the mechanisms behind them,
the better you’ll be able to build – or rebuild – executive skills,
AS you work around them to manage challenges
and  overcome difficulties.”
~ Madelyn Griffith-Haynie

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There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

37 Responses to The Brain: Why much of what you think you know is WRONG

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  6. ericb85 says:

    Hi, Madelyn- the general theme is particularly relevant to me, since I’ve been in an email dialogue with a local religion columnist with staunchly conservative views. It’s been worthwhile, since we’ve both been respectful to each other. His confirmation bias is pretty absolute, as expected, but it’s helpful to clarify where my spiritual thinking is and where it can and cannot go (I’m sure it serves him much the same).

    I hope you’ll have more to say specifically about recent discoveries that change what we thought we knew about the brain.


    • Hey Erich – so glad to hear you’re interested.

      They aren’t really “RECENT discoveries,” however. For some time now I’ve been updating the info posted here in prior posts, as focus, time and energy have been available. The newer info is sprinkled throughout, so this post intros my desire to put it in a new Series (even if much of it is copied from older posts).

      The timing is right currently, since there are a few relatively recently published books that consolidate (& reinterpret) newer discoveries. As has been true of science for-practically-ever, it can take considerable time for the more established scientists to take a serious look and get on board – as happened with advances like neuroplasticity (Merzenich) and stroke recovery (Taub).

      Once I am able to put a great deal of admin work in place, I hope to launch an advanced training. All in good time.

      Meanwhile . . .


  7. wendy says:

    Hi Madelyn….I’m baaacckkk…
    Wonderful post. We are stuck in our beliefs, even when we believe we are very open minded sometimes those old beliefs will come rushing back. Bummer.

    I think we have a lot of learned behaviors. I found that after I was diagnosed with Bipolar I, I would often react the same way I used to to things. It wasn’t because my meds weren’t working, I didn’t have anything but my learned behaviors. I don’t think this is a dressed enough when people are being treated for disorders.

    I have a friend with EFD and I think ADD, I don’t remember. But now she feels better, but she will often still act the same. She is about to lose me as a friend because of her actions. I just can’t take it anymore. I’m her friend, but she isn’t mine. Understand?

    I water to thank you for coming by my blog when I wasn’t making much sense. It was a lot of drugs and the seizures. I haven’t had one in a week. So my neurologist who is a migraine specialist may be right, it may have come from a medication.

    Again, thank you for caring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome back! I am so happy to read that you are feeling better and that the seizures seem to have abated.

      You are right on about the difficulty of changing learned behaviors – and the confusion that makes it seem as though medications aren’t working.

      BOY do I get your comments about an unbalanced relationship is a “friendship” that is unhealthy to continue. Tough – but healthy to cut ties. I’ve had to cut more than a few myself, sadly. We both seem to stay too long, but eventually we lose patience and do the best thing for ourselves.

      As for your migraine specialist – remember that an expert opinion is still an opinion. Don’t let that make you doubt your own as you move forward. I hope that you will continue to value your own observations and instincts, even as you carefully consider those of your neurologist.

      Of COURSE I care about you. I consider you a friend, even though our relationship has been carried out online. I admire you more than I can say, and your welfare will always be something that will concern me. The world is better with you in it.


  8. drdekleindpm says:

    Madelyn, although I don’t comment enough, I do want to thank you for the wonderful work that you share and mention especially a previous piece explaining Body-Double. It was so well written that I could read it to my linear thinking (non-ADHD) wife who rarely has any inclination to understand any aspect of a strategy for someone like myself (chronic ADHDer) that has so affected our relationship for so many years. Again, thank you. David Klein


  9. janetkwest says:

    I completely agree and I have to keep on my toes or I’ll get lazy. So I try new products. and do different things to introduce some chaos into my life. BTW this goes against MY personality. I love the book AntiFragile – by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’ll be watching for more of what you have to say. 🙂


    • Thanks again for reading & commenting. Keeping up takes more of my time than makes sense with any sort of balanced life – but I can’t understand anyone who chooses to remain in a helping field who attempts to “help” with obsolete information.

      While I continue my quest for another field that is kinder to me as I age, I’ll check out your book recommendation. I appreciate it – thanks.


  10. jeg700 says:

    I eagerly await the new information! Thank you for being not too stuck in your ways😄


    • Oh, we’re *all* stuck in our ways – it’s worth fighting AGAINST to avoid that “too” part, however – the primary value of the confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance studies is to allow us to remain on the watch for it in ourselves and others.

      That’s the good thing about the scientific method (when it’s followed with an open mind – the intent to DISprove, if possible, what science already believes has been “proven”). It’s the only way that research moves forward and newer, more accurate information comes to light.

      NOW if we could only get the publishers of the scientific journals on board with the SCIENTISTS. The old guard seems far too protective of old info — it takes y-e-a-r-s (sometimes decades) for credible research findings to reach other scientists, much less “the doctor down the street” (like Merzenich’s & Taub’s work on neuroplasticity — and more, unfortunately).

      Thanks for reading (and commenting positively) – messengers are more frequently shot at (i.e., publicly discounted, often with ridicule), which makes me sound like someone suffering from kind of a conspiracy paranoia , but it IS what generally happens.

      I started like this to help explain the dynamic, since some of my earlier “update” articles haven’t been widely read – and SO much old info is still in play.


  11. luckyotter says:

    Thanks so much for linking to my post!


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