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Speaking to the caveman, woman inside

Wannabe more successful dealing with people? There’s a lot to learn from our brain’s history… Warning: disturbing conclusions!  


Here goes: compared to our ancestors’ brains who roamed the planet some 20,000 years ago, our brains are about 10% smaller. Yes, smaller. Quite the opposite to so many of the grandiose visions we have of ourselves and the evolution of mankind.   


Back then, early homo sapiens were stuck in the middle of the ice-age, probably wishing for some global warming. Note that the brain of the ice-age human was the largest there’s even been. It was the result of two million years of evolution during which it doubled in size, enabling him / her to think and survive through harsh times.  


Evolutionary irony aside, what this 10% brain shrinkage signals is that, for now at least, the expansion of the human brain has come to a halt. And what it means is that our brain and caveman’s brain are essentially… the same.


This wouldn’t be a challenge if our environment hadn’t changed so much. But it has and at an unprecedented rate. It’s estimated that nowadays we take 35,000 decisions a day, a historical record with, now you know it, an ancient brain that wasn’t designed for it.


The results can be seen and felt everywhere around us: feelings of (choice) overload, often sub-optimal decision making and, of course, rising levels of anxiety


These observations are what drive much of Behavioural Science’s research and Braindanz’s work. Our shared goal is to create more brain-friendly solutions that lighten people’s cognitive load. The results are wide ranging, from cutting down on communication wastage, making people feel happier and organizations run better, increasing sales, votes and more.


What’s the key implication here? Well, next time you’re designing a new product or service, planning a campaign, or thinking about how to organize your business, remember that just below the surface lurk cave-women and -men. And that, to understand your great new product, cause, or vision, they’ll only make a fraction of the effort you’d like them to. 


We can’t stress this enough. Too often, we totally overestimate the attention folk will give us. To help remind yourself of that, you can try putting up the picture of an early homo sapient like the one above at your next meeting, instead of the idealized user or buyer we so often see. Reactions guaranteed and it will prompt you to also cover emotions and how to make / keep things simple.

To conclude, and if you were left wondering why our brain has shrunk, the most popular explanation provided by scientists is that quality of nutrition dropped when homo sapiens started agriculture.  


But, in our very recent history – the past 100 years – there’s been a brain size rebound, as infant nutrition quality increased and disease declined in industrialized societies. With the rise of embedded technologies and genetic engineering, who knows where the human brain might be catapulted next?


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