Don't think about the white monkey

I. L. Vikentiev

Up to 80% of viewers do not get enough sleep, because they cannot find the strength to turn off the TV until the end of the program. The letter department is littered with messages: “Because of this rubbish, you made us stay up until midnight!”, “Take at least a break for dinner!”. What prevents adults from turning off the TV?

Fact: up to 80% of French viewers do not get enough sleep, because they cannot find the strength to turn off the TV until the end of the program. The studio’s letter department is littered with messages: “You made us stay up until midnight because of this rubbish!” “Take a break for dinner!” It would seem that the program is watched by adults and there is nothing easier to take and press the switch. But something stopped them from doing it…

And here is a more positive example: “If you imagine a person,” said the wife of the famous inventor Thomas Edison, “living in a state of continuous excitement, not seeing anything that is not directly related to the problem being solved, then you will have an accurate idea of Edison during work”.

It is time to draw a conclusion from such opposite examples. It is well known to psychophysiologists: human activity is largely determined by the dominant – a stable focus of increased excitability in the cortex or subcortex of the brain. This is the mysterious “something”. The dominant focus is able to “contract” external stimuli (just as a sick tooth or finger responds to any push).

Estimate: every normal person all the time – even in a dream – thinks. But about what? Where are the new ideas? Alas, they are often not there: because of the dominant foci, thoughts rarely go astray… Although it would seem that a person is free to think what he wants, he is not always free to decide what he wants… No wonder Bernard Shaw wrote. “Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have achieved world fame thanks to the fact that I think once or twice a week … “Yes, a stagnant focus, on the one hand, is the physiological basis of harmful stereotypes, inertia of thinking and action (recall the example of the French television viewers), and on the other hand, the basis of the creative” autumn ”, “Illumination”. Hence the stories of “insight” so popular in the creative environment – the bath of Archimedes, Newton, Watt’s teapot, Mendeleev’s solitaire. From the constant mobility of the dominant, even an accidental phenomenon can cause the desired solution in the inflamed brain. Or maybe a false conclusion. Academician Aleksey Alekseevich Ukhtomsky studied the mechanism of the dominant more fully and consistently.

How does dominance arise? It goes through three stages in its development. 1st stage. The dominant arises under the influence of internal secretion (for example, puberty) and their irritants. A wide variety of irritants come as ways to feed the dominant.

Let us recall how Andrei Bolkonsky sees Natasha Rostova at her first ball in St. Petersburg: “He admired the wonderful sparkle of her eyes and smiles, which did not belong to spoken speeches, but to inner happiness … You see how they choose me, and I am glad about that, I I am happy about this, and I love everyone, and you and I understand all this, but this phrase said a lot to me, a lot.

2nd stage. This is the stage of formation of a conditioned reflex according to I.P. Pavlov, when from the previous set of excitations the dominant creates a group that is especially interesting for her – a selection of an irritant for the dominant … “The prince with a thrifty-tender expression stood in front of her and said something to her. She lifted her head, blushing and, apparently trying to hold her breath, looked at him. And the bright light of some inner, previously extinguished fire, again burned in her. She has completely changed. From the bad she again became the same as she was at the ball.

Note: at the ball earlier, Natasha is excited, beautiful and happy for everyone; now she is excited, and happy for one Prince Andrei; the dominant has found its adequate irritant.

Third stage. A strong connection is established between the dominant and the external stimulus so that the stimulus will cause and reinforce it. The external environment is completely divided into separate objects, only a part of which corresponds to a certain dominant.

And it’s not even Prince Andrei himself, but only his name (!) Immediately evokes in Natasha that, the only one among others, the dominant that once created Prince Andrei for Natasha …

Having familiarized ourselves with the examples, we list four properties of the dominant focus (in fact, there are more of them) that will be useful to us in advertising:

1) this focus of excitation, and, as a rule, is quite persistent over time;

2) this focus (and in a more general case, a system of focuses) can be simultaneously located both in the cortex, which controls the higher functions of a person (counting, writing, speech, etc.), and in the subcortex, which controls instincts;

3) the dominant focus has the property of “pulling together” various external stimuli and “feeding” on them (recall once again the stories about “insights” so popular in the creative environment);

4) in a specific time interval (it can be minutes, hours, and in painful cases – months and years) one dominant dominates. Let’s illustrate these properties.

EXAMPLE 1. Here is an excerpt from a girl’s letter to a psychotherapist: “The ears upset me the most, I hate them for their shape and size. I think about them all the time. Even constantly imagining something about my ears, of course. I listen, for example, to Vysotsky’s song “Save our souls”, I perceive it as “Save my ears” …

EXAMPLE 2. Says the actor Sergei Bekhterev, who was instructed to play a madman. Arriving for a consultation at the Psychoneurological Research Institute. V. M. Bekhterev, he said to the secretary of the head physician: – Hello, I am Bekhterev. She was frightened. “In vain,” I say, “you are frightened. I really Bekhterev and I need to talk to the head physician. “He’s gone,” the nurse replies. “But you understand that I am Bekhterev?”

– I understand, I understand … You are Bekhterev, Bekhterev.

“Here, girl, you shouldn’t be so … I can see in your eyes that you don’t believe me. If you believed it, you would have missed it. Especially since I really need it.

— Calm down. I believe that you are Bekhterev. But the chief is not here now. Sit down, – she mutters, and I myself, I already see, is about to press a secret button under the table, which is used to signal the orderlies.

“Yes, I’ll show you my passport now so that you believe me,” I insist.

“No need, I believe you anyway.

“Don’t believe me… It’s a pity,” I remark reproachfully, being sure that I really am Bekhterev. And so this game lasted a quarter of an hour, no less. And before I confused her head, that in the end she gave up:

— Okay, let’s get your passport.

She opens it, her eyes become round, she shouts:

– So you – Bekhterev? Why didn’t you just tell me!”

Archimedes concentrating over circles in the sand; a young mother who does not respond to a working TV, but wakes up instantly if her baby gets worried in a dream; Aeroflot passengers’ tense anticipation of a delayed flight are all manifestations of the dominant principle. Many examples could be cited. Another thing is important: the dominant is an objectively existing mechanism of human thinking and behavior. But, unlike animals, a person is able to realize, correct the former and create new dominants.

Four ways to correct unwanted dominants

Is it possible to purposefully form new dominants? Modern psychophysiology does not give an exact answer to this question. One thing is certain: the dominant is not fatal, and before, for example, conducting a serious advertising campaign, it is necessary to “clear the place” – at least try to correct the previous dominants. (It is not possible to completely slow them down – this is clearly seen from experiments on the study of dreams and the use of hypnosis …) There are four main psychophysiological mechanisms for correcting old dominants.

1. A sharp weakening of the dominant due to its natural resolution

This is probably familiar to everyone: after the announcement of landing on the expected aircraft, all subsequent announcements of the announcer are perceived not so tensely.

Another example: W. Goethe in his youth suffered a deep love, which, as they say in such cases, did not have a happy outcome.

The poet had thoughts of suicide. But, as Goethe writes, he “overcame these gloomy moods and decided to live. But in order to live in peace, I had to write a work where I would express feelings, dreams, thoughts of an important period of my life. The novel The Sorrows of Young Werther became such a “lightning rod”. The hero of the novel definitely inherited the traits of the author and his unhappy love — in the novel, Werther commits suicide… Didn’t such a weakening of Goethe’s dominant save his life?…

(Justice requires it to be noted that the publication of “Suffering …” gave rise to a kind of fashion among young people in Europe – suicide on the occasion of unhappy love.)

2. Ban, braking “on the forehead”

Volitional control “on the forehead”, usually expressed by orders “no!”, “do not do it!”, is a method of traditional pedagogy. This is ineffective and is practically not used in promotional activities. Long-term management of the personality in this mode leads to a conflict between “I want” and “I can’t”, to the so-called “clash of nervous processes” (I.P. Pavlov’s term) and neuroses …

3. Translating the necessary actions into automatism

The name of this mechanism is telling and describes an important pattern of pedagogy, communications and advertising.

Note that in any responsible and well-functioning social system, from “army pedagogy” to religious worship, “useful automatisms” are used. At the entrance to the temple (of any religion), a person is obliged to perform certain obligatory actions; military men who meet and do not know each other must certainly salute. And at the West Point Military Academy (USA), first-year students can only move at a light run, and if they come across a niche in the wall in an empty corridor, they, according to the Charter, are on the run! – “should designate it” … Why?

And for “translating the necessary actions into automatism.” It is so obvious that a running cadet is psychologically humiliated and develops a “useful automatism” for army service – the ability to obey without reasoning …

4. Deceleration of the former dominant of the new

How to complete the quest “Don’t think about the white monkey, that nasty white monkey!” How can you not think of such an impressive image? It seems that the ban itself works for the dominant!

The most successful way here, according to A. A. Ukhtomsky, is the creation of a new dominant that slows down the old one. That is, in order not to think about a white monkey, you should think hard about … a red toothy crocodile! Indeed: it is not for nothing that a smart mother does not forbid the baby to whimper, but distracts him …

The mechanism of formation of new dominants is poorly understood, but for advertising practice it is enough to know that new dominants can be developed from different levels of activity: Informational, Emotional and Physiological. It is clear that the information impact, as a rule, is the weakest – it is not for nothing that the calls of the Ministry of Health “Smoking is dangerous for your health” do not work even among doctors …

Other things being equal, the formation of a new dominant that inhibits the old one is most expediently introduced through a physiological mechanism, muscle actions. Not without reason, the physiologist I.P. Pavlov, in order to relieve strong excitement, recommended “drive the passion into the muscles”: douse with cold water, chop wood, go for a run. There are cases when a person with a neurosis (that is, who had a pathological dominant) recovered, finding himself in the face of a real physical threat, and yoga exercises, auto-training begin precisely with muscle actions: it is necessary to “open the door” to consciousness, form the required dominants. After all, we know that strong-willed orders “on the forehead”, whether it be demands to relax or not smoke, do not work well … “draw a fire for a child, constantly reducing the size of the flame, making the flame very small, fearless, and then offering the little patient to blow out the real flame of a match, candle.)

On this psychological mechanism, the system of training actors of K. S. Stanislavsky is built. Since it is an impossible task to force the student’s brain and feelings to work directly, by a strong-willed order, he took a detour: what if we let the actor feel the “nerve” of the role through physical action? Example. There was a case: a young actress could not manage to play a feeling of confusion, fear in the night forest. Persuasion, that is, work at the level of words, that “should be scary”, of course, did not help. What is Stanislavsky doing? Follow your own method. He arranges chairs in a mess – it will be a forest – puts out the light and asks the actors not to talk. “And you,” he addresses the student, “get to me through the forest – I will sit in the opposite corner of the hall.” The actress went, but … slowly, groping, as they walk in the forest. This is where the teacher should be. … He is gone! Fumbling in the dark with his hands … No! Lost direction? All around is darkness and silence. The actress burst into tears. Truly, just like in life. But emotions helped her find the “nerve” of the scene – for this, Stanislavsky … specially left his place.


For the preparation of this work, materials from the site were used.

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