Episode 48 Hot and Cold Executive Functions

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Hot and Cold Executive Functions

Image of the brain representing hot and cold executive functions

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        Erica: Welcome to the personal brain trainer podcast. I'm Dr. Erica Warren.

        Darius: And I'm Darius Namdaran, and we're your hosts. Join us on an adventure to translate the scientific jargon and brain research into simple metaphors and explanations for everyday life. We explore executive function and learning strategies that help turbocharge the mind.

        Erica: Come learn to steer around the invisible barriers so that you can achieve your goals. This podcast is ideal for parents, educators, and learners of all ages.

        Darius: This podcast is sponsored by Dyslexiaproductivitycoaching.com. We give you a simple productivity system for your Apple devices that harnesses the creativity that comes with your Dyslexia.

        Erica: This podcast is brought to you by Goodsensorylearning.com, where you can find educational and occupational therapy lessons and remedial materials that bring delight to learning. Finally, you can find Dr. Warren's many courses at, learningspecialistcourses.com. Come check out our newest course on developing executive functions and study strategies.

        Darius: Erica, it's nice to see you. I'm looking forward to the discussion we're going to have today about hot and cold and executive function. What have you got for us today?

        Erica: I was doing some research, which I'm always doing on executive functioning, and came across these terms of hot and cold executive functions. And I really was very intrigued by this. And I was like, OOH, what is that? It's actually been around for about 20 years. It's in the research. And I did everything I could to dig up who created these terms, but I couldn't seem to find anything. But it is very, very embedded, as I said, in both the theoretical and empirical literature, and just thought it'd be a fun exploration for the two of us. What do you think?

        Darius: Yeah. Could you give the listeners an overview of the distinction between what hot and cold executive functions are and what the research is saying?

        Erica: Yeah. So they're making two distinctions in the sense that they both take place in different parts of the brain and they both have different roles. So the hot executive functions are really looking at, in a nutshell, effective or emotional, anything that's emotional or effective. Whereas the cold executive functions are looking more at analytical and academic or intellectual. It kind of makes sense when you think about it that way.

        Darius: Yeah. Hot emotions and, cool thinking. Got it.

        Erica: So I think that's a simple way of putting it. Now, with the hot executive functions, the parts of the brain that are supported are the medial prefrontal, the ventral lateral prefrontal, and the orbitofrontal cortexes, which include the amygdala, the insula, the limbic system, and the striatum. That's the emotional part of executive functions, whereas the cold executive functions are supported by the dorsolateral, anterior cingulate and inferior prefrontal cortexes, and that includes the hippocampus and the basal ganglia for those that, are interested in the parts of the brain. So I love the idea that not only, is one kind of affective and one is more cognitive, but they really are taking place in different parts of the brain. But we also know that executive functions work together like a symphony. So it's almost like a mix of the hot and cold. But it's helpful to see that distinction. And I love just cutting up the pie a little bit differently because we often talk about working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility, and we break it into that tryptic. But this is, just a new way of looking at it, which I think has a really valuable perspective. So I think each time we cut up the executive functioning pie differently, we're looking at it from a slightly different angle.

        Darius: Do you know what? While you're saying that, over the last week or two, I've been thinking about what shapes the three executive functions would be, and I'm thinking about what colors this hot and cold. So the first thing is hot and cold. I'm thinking red and blue. Obviously, first thing that hit my head, I thought you were saying red and blue, but I was just seeing and imagining red and blue when you were saying hot and cold. And then if you think about the tryptic of these three, and I thought about the shapes. So if you think working memory could be a triangle, it's kind of taking in a lot of information and filtering it down into your brain. If you think about a sideways triangle coming into your brain and then the inhibitory control, we could think of it as a circle. You're trying to encase something or hold it in place. Oh, no. Wrong way around. Sorry, I got them the wrong way around. That's probably why you hesitated there. Triangle for working memory, inhibitory control, straight line that focused straight line and then cognitive flexibility, that circle. And I was thinking about these three archetypal shapes connected to those archetypal functions of executive function. And then you could introduce this idea of red and blue. I'm just seeing this picture and I'm wondering where the red and blue fits within this triangle line, circle, as it were. Anyway, I, just wanted to share that sort of visualization with you, because we're right into creating metaphors and pictures and visualizing and making this practical. I just thought it would be interesting to bring the color of red and blue into this hot and cold and maybe squeeze in a few shapes for the others.

        Erica: Yeah, it's funny. And I actually, in my executive functioning program, have really a triangular yellow character. It's a little bit more Blob shaped, but it is somewhat triangular. For working memory and inhibitory control, I have as red, but I have him almost as a pill shape, tall and narrow, and then the cognitive flexibility is a little round blue character.

        Darius: This is the same. So you've got the triangle, line, and circle?

        Erica: Yes, in essence.

        Darius: Well, pill is kind of like a line, right?

        Erica: and we've talked before, once before. We both felt that those three colors worked really well with the cryptic. But it's interesting now that we're breaking it into hot and Cold. There are just these two options. But yes, and that does take care of and if you think about it, in fact, red is hot and red is for inhibitory control is where we do our emotional regulation.

        Darius: Yes.

        Erica: so it does definitely fit into that correlate. It correlates. Well, of course, for cognitive flexibility is what we use blue for. So we almost need a third color. But they've broken it just into the hot and cold. There is no anything for necessarily I guess they're clumping. Probably working memory and cognitive flexibility together is my guess. Working memory is very cognitive.

        Darius: Got you. Yes. So, yeah, this is great. Sorry to interrupt your flow there. I just wanted to paint these building blocks, put them to the side, play with them while we're listening in, our imagination.

        Darius: So let's deep dive into Hot and Cold executive function. So where should we start, hot or cold?

        Erica: Let's start with hot.

        Darius: Yeah.

        Erica: So again, that has to do with affective emotional, they also bring in the idea of social intelligence along with emotional intelligence. And it helps you to navigate social situations. So I thought that was pretty interesting. So anything that is emotionally charged fits well under that kind of hot. And the responsibilities that they suggest that fit under hot executive functions are impulse control, emotional regulation, motivation, and social behavior, like empathy, for example. So it's interesting they're bringing in some I love this, that the hot is okay, inhibitory control, emotional sorry, emotional regulation, and impulse control. But then it's bringing in motivation. We haven't really addressed motivation that much, or social behavior. And I love putting those into that hot area of executive functioning.

        Darius: Well, I know that we have a propensity when we're talking about executive function to move towards the cold executive function. The analytical, the systematic, getting things done, the very practical, systematic. How does that all work? And it's interesting to have this language of the hot emotional regulation, which we keep sort of bringing in, especially you, you keep bringing that in. Emotional regulation is key in all of it throughout. I mean, all the episodes that we've done, we keep bringing that in because it's such an important part of it all. But to have a language now to talk about this hot emotional regulations is fantastic because how often do our emotions and responses to social situations affect our executive function? A lot. A lot more than we realize. We just got used to it. It's our norm. But someone looking at it would go, oh, hold on a minute, your emotions just got on the way there. And you're like, really? Did they? And you're like, well, yeah. So it's nice to have that. That's fascinating. To have the hot executive functions brilliant.

        Erica: Yeah, it's really fun, isn't it? And I love the fact that they bring motivation into the hot because we don't talk about that, or, we haven't talked about that enough and perhaps we need to explore that some more is really that role of motivation and executive functions. But it does, it fits really perfectly in this pie, so to speak.

        Darius: Well, talking about motivations, my wife is an executive coach, and she does this system called Motivational Maps. So what she does is she goes in these psychologists develop this system for the workplace where you know how you can get profiled as Myers, Briggs or other kind of personalities and work types and so on. It's often very useful to understand the way the other person works. And we've also talked about processing styles on this podcast too. But what this does is it looks at different people's motivations and breaks them down into nine motivations. And it's fascinating because often you think another person is motivated in the same way that you are. So if you're the executive of the company and you're maybe highly motivated by money and financial success or whatever, you might translate that motivation towards your team. Whereas within these nine motivations, that's only one of them. There are other motivations, like a friend motivation. So there's a lot of people coming to work because it's a place where their social and friendship is very valuable to them. Other people have a high defender motivation. We have a mixture of all of them, but a couple of them pop towards the top and high defenders, the type of people who really want to defend and protect processes, systems, people. And so when there are certain new things that are introduced into the conversation by someone who's a very high searcher, really exploring and developing new things or high spirit, then when you understand this, it's just fascinating to understand a person's motivation in advance and play to that motivation. Now, their way of thinking, their way of processing might be very different, but their underlying motivation is very useful for a team leader to understand. I mean, you knew Joanna, who was in my team. Now Joanna when we did this profiling on her for her motivation, is high Defender, okay? And a high defender is someone who likes to defend and protect your customers and your clients and the team members. So when I come along saying, oh, I've had this great new idea, we're going to do X, Y and Z, Joanna, in her politest way, would often have a sort of emotional reaction saying, oh, hold on a minute, Darius, I'm really worried about this, I'm really worried about that. And you could interpret that as a leader, that they're doubting you or something like that. Do you know what I mean? You can misinterpret it. Why are you acting like that? This is a great idea. And on the one hand she would say, yeah, this is a great idea. But then she'd have another reaction underneath it that didn't necessarily correlate to the intellectual. And in a way it's kind of the hot and cold happening there. There's the intellectual acceptance, but then there's this emotional response that's, driven by her motivation to protect. Because she's thinking, gosh, this might affect other team members, this might affect some of our clients. I'm worried about some of the children, whether or not they'll take to this new program or not, et cetera. But when I understood it, I would say to her, hey, Joanna, I know you're a high defender. Why don't you come at this and say where you think this might affect people and what we need to look out for, how we need to protect. And so she could actually express her motivation in a positive way. in the teams, my wife does this a lot with teams, so teams can understand each other's motivations. So I thought it would just useful moment to mention it.

        Erica: Yeah. Do you know the name of that inventory?

        Darius: The inventory is called Motivational Maps. It's just called motivational maps. If you search for that as a keyword, you'll find it.

        Erica: That's really cool. We'll definitely put that in the show notes.

        Darius: Yeah.

        Erica: Now you can kind of see why it was mapped under Hot. Because motivations can be emotional.

        Darius: Oh, yes. And the other interesting thing is that when she does the Motivational Map, it doesn't just show you what your motivation is. It also measures your level of satisfaction in that motivation. And if you have a high level of one particular motivation, like, let's take something we've not mentioned, like High Director. If you're a High Director, you like directing things. You're really motivated to take charge and direct the way things go. Not everyone is that's a high motivator for them, but they might have a very low satisfaction scale on High Director. And you ask, you've got a low score on the satisfaction High Director. Why is that? And you're like, well, to be honest, I find that I don't get given individual responsibility on this. I'm kind of maybe being a bit micromanaged or whatever and that comes out and then the team leader goes, I thought I was really being helpful. But then their motivation is high Directors then play to it. so it's just fascinating to see when there's a disparity to it because I think often the disparity is what generates the emotional reaction. The hotness.

        Erica: That's a really interesting thought. I like that. I like that a lot.

        Darius: You talked about the research and what you've been reading and so on, and they brought in the motivations. Is there anything more from the research? How do you research something like this? how did they go about I'm just trying to think, what sort of things did you come across and what was your journey going down this rabbit hole?

        Erica: I think the purpose of looking at these two types and breaking it down is really an exploration of figuring out and helping us to figure out how we regulate our behaviors and then how we make decisions. So it's just a matter of just breaking it into those two pieces. And it's interesting, I think whenever we study executive functions, we have to make distinctions. And I think that I'm sure if I were to really explore this more, I could probably find another half dozen ways of cutting up the executive functioning. Pie M but it's so interesting because when you look at it from that viewpoint, new little flowers emerge from that.

        Darius: I really loved what you said there. You talked a bit about what executive function is and how we're making decisions and how we're these are ah, a different language that you're actually coming up with, I think, as a result of this. Could you talk more about that? Could you share more of that kind.

        Erica: Of language that you're pulling on. Two words behavior versus decisions. Yes, I think that's what you're pulling that is really interesting because I guess decisions are more of the cold and the behaviors are more of the hot. But what's behind the behavior is the emotion.

        Darius: Yes.

        Erica: so, yeah, I just love every time we are able to look at this through another lens, they're just these little beautiful that pop up that just were invisible when looking through the other lens.

        Darius: Yes. You know, in sales, they talk about how you, make an emotional decision to buy and then you justify it rationally afterwards. We often think we're making a rational decision about what we're going to buy or do, but actually it's an emotional decision that you're unaware of per se, that you then make a rational justification for. So this ties in a little bit to this hot and cold. it doesn't it? Because we're talking about decisions that we made and actions that we take. And buying something is an important executive function expression, isn't it? That would be an interesting sort of narrow case study, to follow this process of how you buy something. Because a lot of people make just an emotional reaction response to something. They impulse buy something and then they justify it. Then there's buyer’s remorse and all that. These are really executive function dynamics, aren't they?

        Erica: Yeah. And it's funny that you say that, because reflecting on the research also, there are a few other distinctions that you're bringing up for me, which is with the hot, they talk about the bottom-up emotional expectation reward experience versus with the cold, they're talking more about the deliberate, top-down processing, which is interesting. And then also in the hot, there's hot executive functions, there's the hot top-down expectation. And then hold on a minute.

        Darius: Say that again. Hot top-down expectation. What does that mean?

        Erica: I guess that an expectation is a top-down thought process.

        Darius: Yeah. Okay, bring it on, keep it coming. This is good.

        Erica: Versus with the cold we've got more of an automatic bottom-up processing. Okay so emotional hot expectation. Okay right. And then cold is more of an automatic response, an automatic learning to automaticity.

        Darius: Well that's interesting because I assumed that the hot executive function would be very emotional and very reactive and very automatic. Say it would be a reaction rather than a response. Whereas the cold would be more of a response, a deliberate intentional response rather than a reaction.

        Erica: It is, it is a deliberate so it's interesting with both of them. Both of them have bottom up, top down. So for Hot it's a bottom-up emotional expectation.

        Darius: Okay.

        Erica: But it's top-down interesting bottom-up emotional expectation when you're looking for a reward.

        Darius: Okay?

        Erica: And then a top-down expectation, I guess in the area of processing so we can't define one as being bottom up and one being top down. They both have both of those dynamics within them. But I think you're right, you can have an automatic emotional response but that takes place in the amygdala.

        Darius: Yes.

        Erica: And that's emotional.

        Darius: And not all our emotional responses are automatic, are they?

        Erica: That's right. If we learn to automaticity, then there's no emotion behind it at all. It's just that we've learned it to a place of automaticity, and it becomes subconscious. So that's kind of subconscious learning, that would be cold.

        Darius: Right. Fascinating. cold, isn't it? Hot executive function. I'm going to think a lot about.

        Erica: That now but we haven't fully gone into cold so let's go a little bit too cold and I hope this wasn't too difficult of a discussion for you guys to follow but hopefully we'll simplify it back down. Sometimes we make it simple, then we go deep into it and then we have to make it simple again. So maybe we'll have to think about how we can do that.

        Erica: But with Cold executive functions again we're looking at very analytical it's crucial for academic and intellectual success and it really helps us to navigate those cognitive tasks. I think it really has to do with a lot of the higher order executive functions and it's responsible for things like planning, organizing and problem solving. So that's really the distinction between the cold, which is yeah, there's really no emotion involved here at all. It's just pure analytical thinking. And it's cold in the sense that yeah, it is what it is has nothing to do with our emotions.

        Darius: Well is that accurate? Can I just play devil's advocate here? When you say something as absolute has nothing to do with emotions. I think this dynamic between the hot and the cold, there's a dynamic that happens between them. And if you think of them as colors, the red and the blue, they're.

        Erica: Mixing, they do mixing.

        Darius: And you're getting a purple, aren't you?

        Erica: Just like we can't pull, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and, working memory apart. Yes, we can't really pull the hot and cold apart. And in fact, when you think of it as two separate spigots, or if you're at the sink, you rarely use just hot water or just cold water. You're usually mixing them.

        Darius: Yes.

        Erica: I think there are moments where you might be purely analytical.

        Darius: Oh, I like that analogy.

        Erica: There are moments where you're, purely hot and emotional, and there are moments where you're purely cold and analytical. But most of the time, it's kind of a lukewarm, where there's a little bit of a mix of both. But I love the idea of mixing the two colors to make a purple. That's really interesting. And ultimately, I think that purple is if you're really doing higher level executive functioning well, then it's probably a nice mixture of the two.

        Darius: I'm going to mix it up completely with another metaphor.

        Erica: Okay, go for it.

        Darius: So why don't we translate the hot and the cold, into sun and earth with a plant in between?

        Erica: Okay, that's lovely.

        Darius: So the hot is the light, the sun coming down, and the cold is.

        Erica: The sun is a red ball.

        Darius: Yes, it is a red ball. And it is hot.

        Erica: A blue ball.

        Darius: Yeah. And then the earth is cold. And there's something about the earth that is of substance and systematic and building blocks and so on. But there needs to be this interplay with a seed that grows with the benefit of both the hot and the cold. And this sort of seed could be like a dream, a desire, a goal, a thing. That is, I think, because my interest in executive function is to help me achieve my dreams and help other people achieve their dreams. Fundamentally. That is why we're here. To help you as listeners and us as individuals and also professionals in the executive functioning world to help people achieve their dreams. Because if you're executively functioning well, then you can get stuff that you want done. You can achieve what you want in it. And that, at, the heart, is our dreams. And these sorts of seedlings, or not even seedlings. Let's just change it again. You could have just a plant, a tree, a, house plant or something. If you deprive it of light, it withers away. If you divide deprive it of water and soil, it dies. It needs both. And that's really what we're describing, this interplay between hot and cold executive functions.

        Erica: Yeah. And I like the image of a plant in between because we're all trying to grow.

        Darius: Yes.

        Erica: And I like the seed because we all essentially come from the same seed seedling. We're all human beings.

        Darius: And also, there's such a huge variety of plants in this world. We're not all growing a fruit tree or, we're maybe growing corn or wheat or we're flowers or a different kind of harvest that we are nurturing a garden or a farm or a tropical rainforest, but they're all still functioning. We're all still functioning with these underlying processes in our minds of how to get stuff done, which is our executive function.

        Erica: And it's interesting because many of us need a little bit more hot, whereas maybe some of us need a little bit more cold. M. So yeah, that works really well. It's an interesting metaphor. So I hope you really enjoyed this conversation on Hot and Cold executive Functioning. I pulled a lot out of this.

        Darius: Oh yeah, I love it, I love it. I'm really going to be thinking a lot more about this and we're definitely going to start pulling this into future episodes, aren't we? This is going to be part of our language.

        Erica: Yeah, it's a new lens. I love a new lens because it just opens up a whole new perspective.

        Darius: You know what strikes me is if someone needs more hot or cold, sometimes that's what teamwork is about.

        Erica: Yeah.

        Darius: Or a relationship, a partnership, you're getting that mix, do you know what I mean? And even in the motivational maps, we're talking about the right mix of different motivations. You can't all be defenders, can't all be high spirits, you can't all be directors, can't all be friendship motivated. Each one plays its part within a team motivation as well. So yeah, fantastic. Erica, thanks for bringing that to us.

        Erica: Oh, yeah, well, thanks for listening and I look forward to the next episode.

        Darius: Yes. And if you want to get some coaching, get in touch with me through the link. And Erica's got absolutely tons of different executive functioning resources and training and so on, don't you?

        Erica: We both yeah, you check us out in the show notes.

        Darius: See you later guys. Bye.

        Erica: Thank you for joining our conversation here at the Personal Brain Trainer podcast. This is Dr. Erica Warren and Darius Namdaran.

        Darius: Check out the show notes for links to resources mentioned in the podcast and please leave us a review and share us on social media. Until next time. Bye.