Adaptive Information Processing Theory

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The human brain is an amazing organ. As our brains develop, they are constantly adapting to the world around them. One theory that helps explain how people adapt their mental processes for different tasks is called Adaptive Information Processing Theory (AIPT). This theory proposes that there are two types of information processing: controlled and automatic.

The main reason for explaining Adaptive Information Processing Theory is that the EMDR method is based on this theory. According to this theory, the mind makes certain codes in a way that will work for itself in all kinds of situations it encounters and records the following information.

adaptive information processing theory
Adaptive Information Processing Theory @cbtpluscork

5 Senses: Sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch Thoughts


Bodily feelings


For example, you are reading this articles right now. It is recorded in the brain as your current experience. As you read the articles, certain points related to the subjects are beginning to enter your mind, you record certain thoughts related to this. There may be positive or negative emotions accompanying this. You may feel that you have found what you are looking for in this book, your curiosity and hope may increase or you may feel bored, you may think it is not suitable for you, and you may decide to look for something else. This is a great example for the Adaptive Information Processing Theory.

Therefore, whatever situation it encounters under normal conditions, your mind processes that experience adaptively, makes certain decisions and acts accordingly. However, if the event you are experiencing at that moment is too hard on your mind, the adaptive information processing system starts to work inefficiently and there are certain tabs in the system. When you have negative experiences that you have difficulty coping with, the system does not work efficiently and problems begin to arise at that point.

Depending on the traumatic event you experience, certain changes occur in the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Certain changes occur in the levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. With the effect of all these stress hormones, these physiological changes in the body begin to affect the brain chemistry and perceptions.

Under normal circumstances, situations where you can look more logical, more realistic, and deal with more effectively start to challenge you. Let’s explain it this way: Especially in old computers, when several programs were opened at the same time, the capacity of the computer becomes insufficient and starts to slow down and even gets stuck. It should be restarted.

Since the open programs are closed when it is restarted, the computer could run efficiently again. In some cases, if the computer is infected with a virus, the computer may run inefficiently because these viruses will constantly force the system to be slow, the computer may become inoperable according to the type of the virus.

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Adaptive Information Processing Theory @valleytherapyuk

In the same way, when certain psychological viruses, unprocessed traumas, and unrealistic thoughts, schemas, patterns related to these traumas are registered and triggered in the subconscious brain, they start to bombard your system with negative stimuli. With this bombardment of stimuli, you cannot act efficiently.

Your feelings are heavy at that moment. It may feel difficult to bear. To alleviate this situation, you wear some kind of sunglasses. Because of these blinders, you cannot see what people can normally think and see. As a result, the difficulties you may address start to feel overwhelming. What’s the problem here?

“Not being able to be in the moment”

At that moment, factors from the past begin to be a burden so much on the mind that even a drop is enough to overflow the glass that is full to the brim. As a result, the glass in the present does not receive as much as it could, and it overflows at the slightest provocation. Let’s go through an example we worked with our clients to understand better.

Adaptive Information Processing Theory: An Example

Let’s assume you have a mother who is a perfectionist. She is not satisfied with anything and always finds a fault in something. As a child, your mother compared you to other children in front of others on a neighbor visit. You experienced this event as a trauma. With this incident, you experienced many emotions such as anger, sadness, shame, anxiety.

This traumatized you as you constantly need appreciation and approval. This seemingly minor event is actually a major trauma for a child of that age. At that point, let’s assume that with this trauma, the adaptive information processing system made the following decision:

“Whatever I do, my mother will not like it, she will find a fault. I am inadequate, incompetent. Then I don’t have to strain myself so much. Even if I force myself, I will always be disappointed because nothing is enough for my mother. That’s why I don’t need to work hard.”

You have survived until today with that mindset. You became an adult and then you started working. At work, your boss publicly praised one of your colleagues and subtly criticized others. He said, “You can’t perform as well, you don’t try.”

adaptive information processing theory
Adaptive Information Processing Theory. Source: ThoughtCo.

When you have such an experience: If experiences like the events you had with your mother in the past are triggered, you may start to feel worse at that moment. You may start to feel worthless, inadequate in the eyes of the manager.

“Whatever I do, I won’t be enough, so I don’t have to try that hard.” The package program from the past can also be reflected here. At that time, perhaps this thinking was adaptive and adaptable to the circumstances. Trying to be even better with a perfectionist like your mother is exhausting and tiring.

As a kid, you stuck to that balance because no other option probably occurred to you. So accepting that kind of thought-decision worked in those circumstances, but looking at the situation in the present from the same point of view can get you in trouble because you are over-burdened.

At this point, when that past event is triggered, the same feeling is reflected here and you feel stuck. What’s even worse here is that without realizing it, you begin to sabotage your life. Maybe you can start judging yourself from within, as your motivation will decrease to do better.

At that time, “I knew, look, see, I am already inadequate.” You reinforce your thought. Since all this is at an unconscious level, you wouldn’t realize that you are acting like that. While this internal system may be uncomfortable for you, your adaptive mechanism doesn’t know how to act differently because issues based on unprocessed experiences are triggered. That’s why you start to feel like a victim. The problem is that past experiences still continue to influence the present in a non-adaptive and distressing way.

Energy Conservation Principle

Normally, our brain wants to use energy efficiently. Therefore, even if it is not the ideal way at that moment, our brain tries to apply whatever it knows in a consistent manner. Most of the time, the real problem is not being able to see that the known path at that time is useless or even damaging. Since facing and contemplation also requires extra energy, you continue as you know.

As such, in a vicious circle, you continue the system you are accustomed to at an unconscious level. As you continue, your quality of life becomes restricted and problems start to recur. You always start experiencing the same things because you look and act in the same way.

As such, traumas start to accumulate constantly. Upon trauma, you start to experience trauma. In the EMDR method, we try to reactivate the adaptive information processing system by processing these unprocessed traumas.

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Aaron Beck

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About Author

He is studying psychology in Canada. Lucas also volunteers helping elderly people in nursing homes. Lucas, who is especially interested in hypnotherapy, continues his education and research in this field.

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