In Part 1 we discussed the difference between a ‘real’ question and a ‘rhetorical-why’ loop, and how the rhetorical-why-loop is more like an indictment because of its intent.

Here we look at how rhetorical-why-loop questions trip up our brain in ways that impair essential operations.

That’s dangerous. Why?

recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the subconscious has a much larger impact than science previously held on our response to perceived danger. This effect can impair our ability to rationally assess danger.

When the body’s in survival mode (and fear puts the ego-self is in charge of bodily processes), it makes little distinction between physical and emotional threats to survival – a snake in the woods and a comment perceived as rejection are handled in similar fashion. The one and only goal of the body is to protect, defend, erect walls, and the like, for the purpose of survival. In this state of survival:

  • No learning or growth takes place when the brain.
  • Cells are not nourished; they do not grow or divide at the same rate, if at all.
  • Growth of new cells stops.
  • In short, all or most all of the energy in the body is invested in protection and defense.

Unlike real questions, rhetorical-why-loop questions can be dangerous as they deflate or even block normal thinking processes of the cortex part of the brain. In a sense, these questions:

  • Lie to us, getting us to believe that, if only we could find the answer, then somehow the pain we feel would stop.
  • Activate the survival system of the body, thus, fear (and thus our ‘ego-self)’ is in charge of choices.
  • Send the brain to spin and spiral into an endless loop, with no exit in sight.

Such questions send the brain into a loop that, if left unchecked, can spiral the mind and emotional-physiological state of the body down into an abyss of sorts.

In this dark place, so to speak, the subconscious mind allows little or no light to enter. There is absolute certainty not only that the verdict is just, but that it will somehow also lead eventually to the restoration of another person or a relationship, or one’s sense of balance or peace of mind – all of which are unlikely when the body’s survival system is activated.

Potentially, this can keep the body’s panic button stuck in survival mode.

  • The sender professes to be asking a question, for example, which would otherwise be a healthy activity of the brain.
  • In this case, however, they are not really asking a question because the verdict of ‘guilty’ or ‘condemned’ is already declared, and presupposed to be true with a certainty that does not allow room for doubt or further questioning.

The nature of a rhetorical-why-loop question also makes it inordinately difficult for the one who failed or betrayed us to change their behavior or make amends.

  • This line of questioning tends to refuse or deny another’s attempts at reconciliation – likely because, deep inside, that is not the real intent.
  • In other words, at some level, the one asking the questions does not even want the other to really change.

And, most of this is undetected and subconscious.

TRY THIS: Think of a relatively minor incident that upset you today or this week. It can be something like, you spilled coffee on your clothes or someone cut in front of you in traffic or your son missed the bus (again). With this minor incident in mind, ask yourself one or all of the questions (see Part 1). For a minute or so, notice how each question grips you, how it escalates anxious feelings inside. Then notice any changes in your posture, breathing, the physiological sensations inside. If you’re really “into” this, you may even feel it taking over your imagination and focus.

Okay, enough of that, stop, take a deep long breath or two, and let go of this. (If you did this correctly, acting ‘as if’ you were immersed in this role, you should have felt an inner shift of emotions.) If you experienced a shift, shake it off, jump up and down, dance around to a few of your favorite dance moves, laugh or giggle or both, and last but not least, turn your thoughts to  something you love, something you appreciate, something that energizes happy feelings inside you!

True, nothing increases our banks of knowledge, wisdom and understanding more quickly and easily than good questions – rhetorical-why-loops, however, merely pose as questions.

In short, rhetorical-why-loop questions trip us up. They trick the brain into compulsively looking for an answer where no ‘real’ answer exists – at least none that will satisfy the soul (a key consideration!).

More on this in Part 3, as well as a list of questions to ask to loosen the hold of rhetorical-why loops on the mind.



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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (December 1, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (December 1, 2012)

Delicious Flavour (December 1, 2012)

Ann Marie (December 1, 2012)

Athena Staik, Ph.D. (December 1, 2012)

    Last reviewed: 14 May 2014

APA Reference
Staik, A. (2012). Questions Are Great Brain Boosters – Except When They’re Not, 2 of 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2015, from



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