Open-mindedness is a very important and beneficial trait of every learner. In this article, you will learn about the importance and benefits of open-mindedness in learning.
Pause and Think: “Are some ideas really worth fighting for?”
From a neuroscientific perspective
What causes narrow-mindedness?
A video narrating a research conducted by Athene describes the social brain. According to this research, specific neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain such as norepinephrine, trigger a defensive state when we feel that our thoughts require protection from the influence of others.
In fact, if we are confronted with differences in opinion, the chemicals that are released in the brain are the same ones that try to ensure our survival in dangerous situations. In this defensive state, the more primitive part of the brain interferes with rational thinking. And the limbic system can knock out most of our working memory. As a matter of fact, this physically causes “narrow-mindedness”.
You can see proof of this effect in politics, religious conflict, gambling, warfare or simply when someone is stubborn in a discussion. No matter how valuable an idea is, the brain has trouble processing it when it is in such a state.
On a neural level, our brain reacts as if someone or something is threatening us. Even if this threat comes from harmless opinions or facts that we may otherwise find helpful and could rationally agree with.
Social validation and self-esteem
On the other hand, when we express ourselves and people appreciate our views, these defense chemicals decrease in the brain. And dopamine neurotransmission activates the reward neurons, making us feel empowered as well as increasing our self-esteem. In general, our beliefs have a profound impact on our body chemistry. In fact, that’s why placebos which have no real physiological benefit on an ailment can still be so effective simply because of a person’s beliefs.
Self-esteem is closely linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin. When the lack of it takes on severe proportions, it often leads to depression, self-destructive behaviour or even suicide. Social validation increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. And it allows us to let go of emotional fixations and become self-aware more easily. Self-awareness is a conscious knowledge of your own character, feelings, motives and desires.
Benefits of Open-Mindedness in Learning
Open-mindedness is a receptiveness to new ideas. It relates to the way in which we approach and consider the views and knowledge of others. An example of an open-minded person is one who listens to her opponent in a debate to see if the information makes sense or if she needs to change her mind.
When you have an open mind, you free yourself from the burden of having to always be in complete control of your thoughts. This allows you to experience new ideas, thoughts and opinions even if they challenge the beliefs you currently have. And this is very crucial to learning.
Even though it forces you to admit that you don’t know everything, open-mindedness causes you to learn much more rapidly. As a matter of fact, the feeling itself makes you feel a sense of freedom. Interestingly, Gerry Spence captures this idea in a quote: “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief”. When your beliefs or the beliefs of others don’t confine you, you are better able to learn more about reality and the world around you.
Moreover, the psychological benefits of an objective belief system include better self-awareness without attachment to personal beliefs and opinions, dramatic increases in mental clarity, social conscience, self-regulation and the ability to “be in the moment”. In other words, open-minded individuals are better at learning.
Being open-minded can really be tough sometimes. This is because most of us grow up with a set of beliefs and values. Moreover, throughout out our lives, we tend to surround ourselves with people who share the same values and beliefs. Our brains have the ability to strengthen our most-triggered thought patterns or neural pathways and turn them into habits. As a result, we can often find it difficult to consider objectively ideas that contradict our beliefs even when they are more reasonable and rational.
Nevertheless, as we’ve seen in this tutorial, we are not fixed entities and we can change our brain’s wiring. As you allow yourself to be more open-minded, you will find it easier to acknowledge different ideas as well as ultimately accept verified ideas and more rational belief systems without cognitive dissonance—the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes. This is an important hallmark of great learners.
What do you think about the ideas shared in this article about open-mindedness? Do you think there are some of your beliefs that you need to revise and change? Share your thoughts below.