Blog Review: Brains on Purpose

The featured blog is ‘Brains on Purpose‘ by Stephanie West Allen (in collaboration with Jeffrey M. Schwartz). In the about section Allen describes herself as a lawyer, counselor and author and has developed a Brains on Purpose(TM) program in which she ‘shows people how to use their minds to change their brains in order to break and create habits, increase focus and awareness and achieve goals’. She has also developed a ‘mediation model’ to resolve conflicts by using the ‘latest findings in neurosciences’. Thus when reading this blog, I thought there might be a focus on conflict resolution and habit forming/productivity which has the potential to have application in various areas.

The title pane is in red, the most recent posts are displayed in the central pane, with black text on white background, red HTML links and red titles. The text within articles is broken up with short paragraphs and the red HTML effectively acting to break up the text. Within the archives, some of the articles require the reader to click on a link to reveal the remainder of the article.  While a seemingly trivial point, this means it is much quicker slower to access the articles compared to blogs articles in which a HTML link must does not need to be clicked to reveal the rest of the article which may result in a server delay as well as the additional time required to locate and click on the link. On the right hand pane there are a number of resources. There is the author’s picture. In keeping with the about section, Allen lists her recommended brain and conflict resolution books. There is an about section about collaborator Dr Jeffrey Schwartz, a research psychiatrist based in Los Angeles who has developed expertise in the area of brain plasticity. Articles are indexed according to month and category although the archives extend further back than displayed on the home page. The blog is syndicated with an RSS feed link displayed on the far right pane.

The blog begins with this introductory post from August 2007. In this article Allen comments on the a widely publicised study showing the benefits of labelling feelings and draws on some of Schwartz’s work suggesting the benefits of learning to label feelings through the day to facilitate conflict resolution when it does arise. This post begins with a neat quote from Proust and Allen gives the reader this thought provoking view on habit

When we are only relying on habit, we are reduced to our “bare minimum” – and we are not in charge of our own brain

As the blog continues and the profile rises ‘Brains on Purpose’ is referred to on a site referencing mediation links. The importance of self-awareness in conflict-resolution is discussed in this article and there is a brief look at the possible role of the Insular cortex, an area of the brain covered previously on this blog. Drawing a possible link between the Insular Cortex and resolution of conflict is interesting and it is tempting to speculate about factors such as environmental temperature (temperature and other sensory information is integrated in maps in the Insular Cortex according to A.Craig who has done a lot of work on this area and his papers are reviewed here, here and here) on conflicts (for instance in a study from last year people experienced more positive associations with a stranger when they were holding a hot rather than cold drink – could such observations be useful for conflict resolution – breaking up a confrontation by sitting round the table with a hot drink! – perhaps there is a case-control study in the making!). In this article there is a discussion of the gender similarity hypothesis which asserts that men and women have more similarities than differences. Allen also writes about a group called the Amygdaloids comprised of neuroscientists singing about….the brain (see video linked to below).

There is also this very useful Mind Papers resource which contains thousands of papers on the philosophy of mind. Allen talks about ‘Brain Overclaim Syndrome’ in which effectively exaggerated claims are made about neuroscience findings and in this article she looks at fMRI studies commenting on an impending challenge to current thinking about fMRI (prescience?). In this post, Allen discusses a model of emotional regulation and how mediation can act at each of these points in the model. There are lots of links to relevant conferences and this one on neuroleadership at which Schwartz was speaking is quite intriguing.

The incorporation of neuroscience findings in conflict neuroscience is encouraging and to do so necessitates consideration of the mind and brain. Indeed in adopting a ‘holistic’ approach it is necessary to understand how the biology impacts on the mind by various means. The work which has most impressed me recently in this regards is that by Niall McLaren who writes that that descriptively there is a biologically ‘hardwired’ fast-acting brain with a ‘slower’ reflective mind (although of course the mind does originate from the brain) and that they require different descriptive languages (McLaren’s book is reviewed here). These are subtle points but crucial to addressing the needs of the individual in crisis resolution. It would be interesting to see in this regards how some of the work on the physiological stress response can be incorporated into conflict resolution work. There is a significant body of work in this area that has accumulated over more than a hundred years drawing not just from the neurosciences but also endocrinology and other areas of medicine. Such research offers a rich source of additional information on modifiable factors that can optimise the conflict-resolution environment and can often be overlooked. Such responses have a profound impact on phenomena ranging from the brain’s neural plasticity through to long-term cardiovascular health risks in the workplace.

Allen’s blog is an interesting one which addresses the very important issue of conflict resolution and provides the reader with a lot of enjoyable and engaging material along the way.


You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast).


If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


    • Your very welcome! It was enjoyable to read and the approaches you discuss i’m sure will make the world a better place!




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