Our brains are unique in that they can balance both long and short-term perspectives. But they aren't designed to do so perfectly.
Demonstrators confront one another in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus during a right-wing anti-mask protest on July 18.Jeff Dean / AFP - Getty Images file
Humans have achieved many remarkable things — we have voyaged to the moon, developed technology to communicate over vast distances, and created wonderful art, music, literature and philosophy — all because our unique human brain allows us to delicately balance prospective gains with immediate needs.
Yet, those more urgent survival needs (believed to be mediated by older brain systems that we share with many other animals) mean that we still engage in impulsive behaviors. And those behaviors, which once promoted our survival and reproductive success, are now suboptimal because we live in an environment in which long-term contingencies play an increasingly important part in our lives. The conflict posed by immediate versus delayed consequences requires reconciliation by multiple brain systems — a reconciliation that all too often discounts or devalues delayed prospects over immediate demands. Read more >>