The Power of Pattern Detection

In my course of study on behavioral finance and decision-making, I often learn and think about the functions of the brain. One of the most wonderful attributes is the ability to detect patterns in our everyday living.

The Conference

Earlier this week, I spoke at Investments & Wealth Institute’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas on the topic of investor behavior and making better financial decisions. Core to understanding investor behavior is to understand some basic functions of our thinking brain.

One of those functions is its ability to detect patterns below a conscious level. Our brain is constantly seeking patterns, and then helping us judge situations quickly and make decisions. I used a couple of games to demonstrate this pattern detection and then likened it to facial recognition. Little did I know that less than 12 hours later I would be in awe at this pattern recognition in my life.

“I Think I Know You”

I had just finished breakfast in the exhibit hall and was heading out to prepare for a morning call. As I was walking through the exhibit hall, I was just kind of scanning things. Not looking for anything in particular, but not looking at the carpet. And that’s when it happened.

All of the sudden, the brain told me that I was looking at a face it recognized – someone I may know. I stopped and looked a bit closer. I saw her name tag and the name seemed familiar with that face. Then I said to her, “I think I know you.”

We spoke briefly and then I placed her. She was a wholesaler and I was one of the advisors she would visit (we had a working relationship). But it had been 16 years since we had seen each other! No offense to her, but I had never thought of her since. And yet, in an instant, the brain saw a pattern it identified.

The Power of Patterns

We are amazing creations. If we take time to ponder and really think about the miracle of our brain, we get a great sense of gratitude of who we are and the wonderful abilities we have been endowed with.

The very fact that our brain is detecting patterns at all waking times, below the level of our consciousness and without any cognitive effort, is truly amazing. It helps us live quite efficiently.

Sure, our brain is filled with blindspots, biases and subject to emotions that may cause us to make poor decisions. But that is certainly one of the joys of life – learning how to improve who we are and make better decisions.

This is one of those times in life that I sit back and ponder on the awesomeness of our brain. How grateful I am to have a functional brain! It may not always be this way.