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Brain Health: Analogies

A young gardener wearing a sunhat and smiling with a large bouquet of fresh, green kale.

Dr. Sandi Chapman

Dear friends,As we try to make sense of these uncertain times, reasoning by analogy can be a powerful way for our brains to understand and respond in healthier ways to our constantly changing circumstances. We’ve all heard comparisons between COVID-19 and SARS, the Spanish flu of 1918 and even 9/11. But some analogies can also become a limiting factor in our decisions and habits as we seek new understanding. Check out this podcast from Dr. Dan Krawczyk, my deputy director at the Center for BrainHealth. Dan is a “reasoning researcher”, and his Mental Models podcast offers useful, relevant insights about decision-making. Dan breaks down how reasoning by analogy works. It starts with the current information we hold in our working memory. The brain then maps the situation, filling in unknowns by pulling information from seemingly equivalent past experience. An analogy is born. Using analogies can guide decision making, but it can be dangerous if we don’t continually test and update them with new knowledge. Consider, for example, the medical advancements since the 1918 flu. When an analogy no longer holds, we must scrap it and search for a more valid one. I invite you to listen and subscribe to Dan’s Mental Models podcast for more examples of how we can apply brain science insights to our daily lives. As you go through each day this week, challenge yourself to think about an analogy to guide a decision – especially related to recent changes in your life. Look for signposts to test its validity. Consider other – possibly better – analogies. Guess what? This mental activity is a powerful cognitive exercise to sharpen your complex thinking and innovation capabilities. Try it as a dinner conversation to stimulate meaningful family sharing. I would love to hear from you about how you filled in the blank in the title of today’s message!
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Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD

Chief Director Dee Wyly Distinguished Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences Co-Leader, The BrainHealth Project

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