Who is to Blame?
Who is to blame when things go wrong? What is to blame when we make the same mistake over and over?
Should we blame disasters for happening or should we blame ourselves for failing to anticipate and prepare for them? This is a burning issue that I am puzzled not many people are seeking to understand.
There is no denying that humans and organisations are sometimes self-destructive. Why?
Neuropsychological research suggests that the human inability to learn from mistakes may be the root cause of a broad range of human calamities. Could this be why most safety programmes fail, road traffic accidents happen and some people continue to be victims of substance abuse?
Psychologists have uncovered an error related negativity (ERN), an electrical signal that originates in the anterior cingulate cortex; a group of neurons that appear to light up when we are faced with a particularly challenging task and peaks after we ‘ve made a mistake.
The implication is that someone with an unusual pulsation could have the neurobiological underpinning for a serious cognitive deficit which may in turn lead to other lack of impulse controls.
Addicts and bullies know that their behavior is bad. Similarly organisations also know that failure to prepare for a crisis is bad practice, yet they ignore this reality at their own peril. The failure to learn from hindsight is one of the reasons some communities have been wiped out by floods, fires and marriages.
John Hall and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota have studied this perplexing psychological problem scientifically. Their study was focused on finding out if people who are significantly self-destructive really failed to detect their mistakes in ordinary ways.
They tested 1,600 subjects by measuring several traits such as irresponsibility, rebelliousness, alienation. Based on the test they selected the lowest and highest impulsivity.
The subjects were wired to EEGs and given very challenging cognitive tests involving rapid perception and movements with an emphasis on accuracy. The accuracy element was however not a critical part of the test; the goal was actually to have them make as many mistakes as possible.
Hall and his colleagues observed that, the subjects who were most impulsive and antisocial had EEGs that were very different from those who were low on those traits. The electrical pulse associated with error monitoring was much lower in this group and it was lower immediately after they had erred, suggesting that the brain normal response to making mistakes was malfunctioning.
It is important to note that all the subjects were healthy university students. This means even those within the extremes of impulsivity were in the normal range, not in jail or in correctional facilities. This is the type of group that we expect to enter the workforce under normal circumstances and progress on to occupy positions in safety, business continuity, risk and emergency management.
Weakened electrical signals have also been linked to other issues such as deficit in traits such as sense of duty, reliability, responsibility.
Here is the big question for HR personnel and resiliency professionals-
What if organisations could implement mandatory screening to minimize the number of people with lower EEGs from taking on critical safety-related jobs that put many lives and property at risk?
Will that make use safer?
Will that make us more resilient?
What will that mean for your business in the long term?