The Theory of Cognitive Modes

A new understanding of thinking and behavior

A New Way of Thinking about Thinking

Introducing an original theory of personality built on decades of research.

Welcome to our blog!

In the posts ahead, we will explore in depth the Theory of Cognitive Modes, a new way of understanding thought and behavior that, until now, has largely remained inside scientific circles. We will discuss everyday implications of the theory that might help you, the reader, in matters ranging from relationships to family dynamics to work to your own voyage of personal discovery. We promise a lively and sometimes provocative experience. We welcome input from you and we will address your observations and questions as best we can. Please write.

The Theory of Cognitive Modes is based on an anatomical division of the brain – but not the one you may think of, namely, the division of the brain into its left and right halves. The brain indeed is physically divided that way, but there is no solid scientific basis for the popular notion of psychology that has resulted: that the left side is “logical and analytical” and the right is “intuitive and creative,” and any individual is characterized by one side than the other. This is may be the mother of urban legends, as we’ll write about in a later post.

The key to our theory is another division of the brain: into its top and bottom parts. This commonly overlooked separation underlies the Theory of Cognitive Modes.

In a nutshell, it breaks down like this:

The top system of the brain is involved in choosing goals, devising appropriate plans to reach them, and then acting on those plans and revising them as necessary; the bottom brain is involved in classifying and interpreting objects and events. Although everyone uses both systems, people vary in how deeply they use each of them. Variations in how much a person uses each system define four general ways that people approach life in their thinking and behavior: Perceiver, Stimulator, Mover and Adaptor.

PERCEIVER MODE results when someone uses the bottom-brain system beyond what is necessary to function – reflecting deeply on the meaning of ongoing events. At the same time, one does not use the top-brain system so deeply, instead making simple and direct plans. In Perceiver mode, people try hard to analyze and make sense of their environment but may not effectively respond to a situation with a detailed and complex plan.

The Dalai Lama is a real-life example of someone who seems to operate in this mode.

STIMULATOR MODE results when someone uses the top-brain system to devise detailed and complex plans – but does not use the bottom system to reflect deeply on the significance of ongoing events. In Stimulator mode, people produce detailed ideas and they may be highly creative and inspiring but they may not be very effective because they don't adjust their plans in response to ongoing events.

Tiger Woods is a real-life example of someone who seems to operate in this mode.

MOVER MODE results when someone uses both the top-brain and bottom-brain systems deeply. In Mover mode, people plan carefully, note the consequences of their plans, and respond appropriately when plans change. According to the theory, people who habitually operate in this mode tend to be natural leaders, and may head a company, be principal of a school, or be in charge of a neighborhood association or club. Because of these qualities, they often wind up in the public eye.

Michael Bloomberg is a real-life example of someone who seems to operate in this mode.

ADAPTOR MODE results when someone uses neither the top or bottom system deeply. In Adaptor mode, people don't spend much time worrying about plans or trying to get to the bottom of things. They typically let others set the agenda, and may work as good team members. According to the theory, when people operate in this mode they tend to be “action-oriented” and responsive, prone to “go with the flow,” and appear as free-spirited and often are fun to be around.

Britney Spears is a real-life example of someone who seems to operate in this mode.

You can determine your own dominant cognitive mode through a scientifically validated 20-question online quiz.

In our next post, we will examine the roots of the left brain/right brain myth and explain how it came to be accepted as natural law in popular culture. This will set the plate for a discussion of the neuroscientific foundation for the Theory of Cognitive Modes -- which, in turn, will lead us to possible practical applications and more.

For now, we close with wisdom from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (a Perceiver, we must assume): “He who knows others is learned/He who knows himself is wise.”

 

Stephen M. Kosslyn, Ph.D., is a psychologist and neuroscientist, and G. Wayne Miller is an author.

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