Publicist For the Brain – (Self) Image Control

Before the holidays, NY times ran Laura Holston’s interview with the founder of Napster and president of Facebook Sean Parker. In this article, according to her Sean Parker struggles with fame. She describes Mr. Parker’s uncontrollable need to disclose his views and thoughts with blatant disregard to the reaction it conjures up in the listener’s mind.

Here’s an excerpt from Laura Holston’s article:

Mr. Parker, whether by design or impulse, has an almost compulsive need to share whatever is on his mind. When asked whether he used drugs, Mr. Parker dove in, saying, “I definitely don’t smoke weed,” and would have continued if his publicist had not cut him off. (Silenced, Mr. Parker followed up with a less specific response.) He is critical of gossip sites that report on his parties while, at the same time, breathlessly describing why he hires greeters or how he devises a menu. And he brazenly called New York socialites who came to his charity fund-raisers but did not donate “idiots.”

If I did not know the main character described here was Sean Parker I would have easily thought that behaviors of this sort resemble that of individuals who have suffered a brain injury or have been diagnosed with ADHD. In either case, under-functioning prefrontal context can cause havoc.

Prefrontal cortex or the central executive acts as a publicist for the brain. It regulates narrative discourse and directs behaviors and actions by applying a “social filter” which screens the information for its relevance, timeliness and impact.  Just as a real life publicist, prefrontal cortex ensures “positive” coverage of self and choreographs responses so that the self gets a spotlight. Most importantly, this executive director campaigns in order to promote the mission of self.

For example, if I wish to be known as a punctual individual I would provide a logical and decent explanation for running late. If I don’t provide such an explanation, I might be perceived as tardy AND irresponsible. This perceived image could do damage to my “reputation” hence the prefrontal cortex or the central executive would step in to remediate the situation,  prompting me to say, “I am so sorry for being late. There was a terrible traffic jam at the junction of I-75 and I-285. I hope I did not keep you waiting.”

In her book “How to hire the perfect publicist” Joan Stewart describes the following:

So who are the Publicists from Hell?

  • They’re the ones who are pushy and obnoxious.
  • They can’t take no for an answer.
  • They’re clueless that the story they’re pitching isn’t a good match with the media outlet they’re calling.
  • They write multi-page, rambling news releases and bury the gist of the story in the 6th paragraph.
  • They follow up every news release with an annoying phone call to ask the media outlet, “Did you get my release?”, and “Do you know if you will  use it?” And they do this on your nickel.

Now you can see a parallel in the story of John, a 7th grader with a diagnosis of ADHD that I am about to describe.

According to John’s teacher, during the math class he was sent into detention for exhibiting general disrespect for the learning environment. Apparently John changed his seats not once but several times without it being essential or permitted. In addition, he made several off-topic comments, which were not only unnecessary but completely inappropriate. Finally, John attempted to entertain a few backbenchers with the antics of putting quarters in his ear causing others to get distracted and derailing the teacher’s focus. Here, John’s “publicist” did not stop him from engaging in these social no-nos. These series of impulsive and inappropriate behaviors eventually led to John’s reputation falling from grace. Of course, John’s intention was to be funny, clever and even cool but his unawareness of rules, protocols and the reaction from the teacher turned out to be unfavorable to him in the long run. Unfortunately, since these are symptoms of executive dysfunction resulting from ADHD, giving John detention would neither improve his self-editing process nor would it teach him the lesson that he really needs to learn.

Providing treatment to remediate social deficits resulting from poor executive filter is an essential course of action, which often gets overlooked.

During the cognitive retraining sessions, restoring the central executive can be attained by providing explicit process-based tools to those with neurological dysfunction or variety of developmental diagnoses. The treatment emphasis can range from teaching problem solving, enhancing verbal reasoning, and instilling cause-effect analysis. The self-editing process can be attained by video recording these individuals in action as well as giving verbal and written feedback.

Restoring and maintaining a strong positive self-image requires attention to social details and careful consideration of actions and their consequences. If any dysfunction or lack of skills is likely to hamper one’s reputation we should intervene.

I invite you to leave a comment and join me in sharing ideas. If you would you like to know more about my practice, visit my website at www.cerebralmatters.com. For any further communication, leave me a note here or contact me at Sucheta@cerebralmatters.com.

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