Old Dog, New Tricks

Maybe not new tricks, but new attitudes.  Past a certain age, the wiring is certainly hardened, but something incredible happens.  The brain, if the soul is on-board, can find new paths.

We spend a lifetime building our internal infrastructure, repairing and sometimes replacing it.  A lot like our road system.  Our attitudes and values mostly stay with us, although they take on the hues of our experiences, and sometimes, what we learn.


Science shows us that the brain can re-wire pathways in some situations. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, often from injury or through learning.  The brain can physically do what our minds often resist.

The increasing persistence hypothesis says “individuals are eminently flexible and responsive to social circumstances when they are young, but as they age, their flexibility decreases gradually…”  This hypothesis is the foundation of numerous studies about the formation and flexibility of attitudes over a life time.  The type of socialization you receive in your younger years, and participation in the adult world, shapes your values, attitudes and world view (impressionable years hypothesis).  This hypothesis goes on to say that once formed, these things become fixed for life.  So, what you value in youth is what you likely value in your senior years.  Thurston Howell III was not likely to turn his back on money.  How about Bill Gates?

As we age, we fight the effects of the aging process, and the susceptibility to diseases that can rob us of memory and function.  Mental stimulation and challenge is important just like muscle exercise and flexibility.

So, science tells us that as we age, learning is possible, and can impact the actual wiring in our brains.  Research also says that we keep our intellectual and values-based foundation through life, and it actually hardens along the way.  Research is about trends; it is like a survey.  It does not say you will or shall retain only the values and views you acquired when you were younger, only it is likely.  There are always exceptions.

In The Conscious Mind by David John Chalmers, awareness is defined as “the state wherein some information is accessible for verbal report and the deliberate control of behavior.”  Can we gain awareness?  I believe we can, but it is less about what is accessible or observed, and more about what we do with this information which influences behavior.  Seeing is not believing; seeing is only the first step.

What is the linkage between awareness and attitudes?

Attitude – noun. manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind:

Awareness – noun. knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.

When someone is aware, they are knowing, they have perceived data or information about something.  Being aware, does not mean it will change or guide behavior.  When that data or information is internalized in an attitude, it then colors feelings, reactions and ultimately behavior.  That is my ten cent analysis.

Factors influencing attitude formation. These factors may undergo changes themselves as external influence may stimulate an individual to revise his or her current position (Stroebe et al. 2002, modified).  

Changing attitudes is hard, research shows that, but what causes it to happen?  Despite being provided or registering information, a person can be aware, but not utilize that information in a way that changes action or behavior.  We are conditioned by our own past attitudes, beliefs, experiences and the environment we live in, to the point, that we reject what we see, and maybe even believe.  How can that be?

Here’s my take: Change is about will, the desire and stamina to carry through with something different, even something that runs counter to previous attitudes. It is possible.

Old dogs are generally set in their attitudes and behavior, even if they are aware. The distance between knowing and behavior, can be as long as our journey, or as short as the synapses in our brain.

It is not the distance, it is the will.

End of Part I.

When I started writing this blog, I had something else in mind, but as I explored the subject and concepts, something else took shape.

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