The Impact of Questions in the Brain

Questions are powerful. Not only does hearing a question affect what our brains do in that instant, it can also shape our future behavior. And that can be a powerful principle in the workplace.
(With children too!)

When we ask a question to someone we trigger a mental reflex in their brain. This reflex, known as “instinctive elaboration” essentially pauses the brain’s functions and puts all processing focus into the question being asked. As the brain searches for the answer, its ability to contemplate anything else is limited to impossible. Research in neuroscience has found that the human brain can only think about one idea at a time. As much as I believe in multi-tasking, science and research claims we cannot actually multi-task. My personal jury is still out on that research, BUT the hijacking of the brain from a question poses intrigue to me and our work with children.

Behavioral scientists have also found that just asking people about their future decisions significantly influences those decisions, a phenomenon known as the “mere measurement effect.” Back in 1993, social scientists Vicki Morwitz, Eric Johnson, and David Schmittlein conducted a study with more than 40,000 participants that revealed that simply asking someone if people were going to purchase a new car within six months increased their purchase rates by 35%.

How fascinating questions are for people and their decision making ability! The experiment conducted on “mere measurement effect” eludes to a possible hypothesis: Asking more questions to children when young will aid in building future decision making capabilities, possibly increasing morally sound decision making.

As parents and care givers, we are provided a wealth of information on how to help our children grow-up, into morally sound, confident and capable adults. I sense the ability to think for themselves is a good first step. Let’s take this a step further…Also, asking questions in a positive light increases productivity in our brains. We do not want to ask our children: “Why don’t you do your homework?” We can ask “How can homework get done?” We can ask our children to make decisions based on questions. Reflective and open-ended questions best support brain development. The more the question makes a child think; higher critical thinking functions fire up in the brain. Being able to think critically is a necessary skill for adults.

Science begins by asking questions and then seeking answers. Young children understand this intuitively as they explore and try to make sense of their surroundings. However, science education focuses upon the end game of “facts” rather than the exploratory root of the scientific process. Encouraging questioning helps to bring the true spirit of science into our educational system, and the art of asking good questions constitutes an important skill to foster for practicing scientists.

As we begin to move through our day, week and month, reflect on how often we are asked questions. How often our children ask us questions, our workplace, family, people seeking advice… Questions appear to be all around us. Now that we understand asking questions helps build brain connections, we can encourage our children to explore and question curiosity with them. Learning and growing together will increase relationship rapport, creating stability for our children and their world around them. With strong brains, we equip our children with competency to attack most challenges that will be presented in their growing years.

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