Managing with the Brain in Mind

According to Naomi Eisenberger a leading social neuroscience researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), feeling of being excluded provokes the same sort of reaction in the brain that physical pain might cause.

This study and many others now emerging have made one thing clear: The human brain is a social organ. Most processes operating in the background when your brain is at rest are involved in thinking about other people and yourself.

One critical thread of research on the social brain starts with the “threat and reward” response, a neurological mechanism that governs a great deal of human behavior. Recently, researchers have documented that the threat response is often triggered in social situations, and it tends to be more intense and longer-lasting than the reward response.

The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person — or of an organization. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function, which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving; in other words, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain’s internal resources are taken away from them.

Research into the social nature of the brain suggests another piece of this puzzle. Five particular qualities enable employees and executives alike to minimize the threat response and instead enable the reward response. These five social qualities are status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness: Because they can be expressed with the acronym scarf, I sometimes think of them as a kind of headgear that an organization can wear to prevent exposure to dysfunction. To understand how the scarf model works, let’s look at each characteristic in turn. For more information CLICK HERE.

Source: Startegy + Business; Author: David Rock; Published: August 27, 2009 / Autumn 2009 / Issue 56

Mind Over Matter: Controlling Individual Neurons By Your Thoughts

Neuro-scientists in UCLA and Caltech were able to show that people can use their thoughts to control what they see on the computer monitor.

The patients could control their thoughts in a conscious manner where their imagination could overwrite the visuals displayed for them. They could deliberately “regulate the activity of their neurons to intentionally alter the outcome of stimulation.”

By tracking such neuron activities, scientists may be able to develop a direct brain-machine interface based on human thought, intention and imagery such as memories and even dreams.

To listen to Christof Koch, Itzhak Fried and Moran Cerf, Click Here.

Source: Singularity Weblog, November 4, 2010

Brene Brown@TEDx: The Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Brené’s current research focuses on authentic leadership and wholeheartedness in families, schools, and organizations. Her work draws on empirically based strategies to engage your clients on a cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal level to improve their ability to empathize, belong, and love.

In THIS funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research. It’s quite awesome!

Source: TEDxHouston, Filmed June 2010, POsted Dec. 2010

Anima, Animus & The Future of Business

The anima and animus in Carl Jung’s school of analytical psychology, are the two primary archetypes of the unconscious mind. The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male, it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima or female archetype; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus or male archetype.

At his talk for a gathering of TEDxWomen in the Bay area, John Hagel the Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation framed a perspective that has been been evolving regarding the gender implications of the Big Shift. According to Hagel one of the requirements for success in the future of business is getting access to a broader and more diverse range of knowledge flows. Therefore, we must find ways to scale the number of trust based relationships that we can build and maintain. To make this happen the masculine culture within the organizations must find a way to adapt to the psychic power of the feminine archetype.

Hagel predicts that the future belongs to those of us, female or male, who can adopt and embrace the anima. This archetype can turn mounting pressure into expanding opportunity where we can move from a diminishing returns world to an increasing returns world.

To learn more about this perspective, Click Here:

Source: Edge Perspectives with John Hagel

Dopamine-Oxytocin Combo

Dopamine and Oxytocin enhance pleasure, but how? When we are first exposed to sexually arousing stimuli, certain neurochemical changes take place. Our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in a plethora of functions- pleasure, arousal, desire, and attraction, to name a few. Dopamine also plays a big role in motivation and drive, which is why dopamine-enhancing drugs work well in syndromes like ADD, where lack of motivation is an issue. Because of the strong association dopamine has with both arousal/desire and motivation, it is also thought to play a role in addiction.

After our brain releases dopamine, we feel attracted to the object of our attention. We are compelled to draw closer to it, to experience it more fully. If we are stimulated enough to a point of high arousal, like right before or during orgasm, oxytocin is triggered. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that is associated with attachment. When we interface with a person or object, and our brain releases oxytocin, we naturally form an attachment to it. Oxytocin has been found to be a big player in mother-baby bonding, and there have even been very recent studies that show artificial administration of oxytocin makes males more sensitive and helps autistic children form social relationships.

The Dopamine Oxytocin (DO) combo can be a pretty strong weapon in the game of attraction- a pure biochemical love-potion, if you will. And the thing is, you don’t even have to engage in sexual activity in order to prime these neurotransmitter responses, which is why fantasies are so powerful. You create the sexual images in your mind, and your brain responds neurochemically, even in the absence of tactile stimuli.

So one can argue that fantasies can be just as arousing as a flesh and blood person, maybe even more so. It all boils down to Classical Conditioning. Research has already shown how paired association of a pleasurable stimulus with a neutral stimulus can cue the release of dopamine from the neutral stimulus following training. You can think of past sexual experiences as the “training condition”, and the DO combo as the cued response. After you’ve experienced the pleasure of sex, certain images and conditions that remind your brain of that experience can cue that DO combo response even in the absence of the the stimulus (sex).

If you are able to deftly prime those neurotransmitters to be released, you can effectively chemically coerce people into just about anything. The mere image of sexual activity or the strong suggestion of it can be enough to cue the response, get that dopamine flowing, and oxytocin comes running in right behind.

The point is, all things equal, if you are presented with two things, and one of them induces a sexual response, that is the item or person you will be drawn to. It doesn’t matter if it is real, virtual, 2D, 3D, 4D, or all in your mind. All it needs to do is trigger the DO combo, and it is a done deal. As the author puts it “nothing like being a slave to your neurotransmitters, eh?”

Source: Science 2.0; The Science Of Pleasure: Your Brain On Sexual Imagery; Andrea Kuszewski; August 14th 2010

Releasing The Hidden Potential Of Our Mind

What if we all could demonstrate amazing abilities such as: near total recall of memories, the ability to count a large number of items simply by glancing at them (numerosity), incredible musical talent, etc. Allan Snyder the director of the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney thinks we can!

Certain individuals, often called savants display these cognitive feats while often suffering from a neural disorder like Autism. Snyder believes that these abilities arise as Autism (or other phenomenon) grants the individual ‘privileged access’ to data that would normally be overridden in the brain. With magnetic pulses, Snyder has even been able to temporarily ‘unlock’ savant-like abilities in average people!

Snyder has published numerous papers on cognitive processing and brain performance. His paper in The Philisophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (biological sciences) summarizes his work (and related work from others). To grossly paraphrase his findings: the right hemisphere of the brain seems to accumulate detailed quantified data from the sensory organs unconsciously. This data is effectively overwritten or forgotten as the left brain packages information and imposes labels and organization upon it. When the left-right communication is disturbed or somehow faulty, the detailed data can sometimes be accessed by the conscious mind.

Occasionally though, people’s brains function differently. Snyder thinks they are granted ‘privileged access’ to the unpackaged data and gain “Rain Man” type talents. This can cause problems, such as all the negative symptoms associated with Autism, but it opens the possibility that this data is potentially available to everyone. Our conscious mind seems to work in a very top-down sort of way, with hierarchical thinking giving rise to the problem solving skills that make our species a success. But what if we could temporarily disturb that arrangement by shutting down one part of the brain to regain what that structure has cost us: exact recall of detailed data and calculations.

What other conditions (positive or negative) might we induce simply by temporarily shutting down different centers of the brain? We might learn languages faster, or have insights into our most difficult problems, or even just think of jokes more easily. There’s so much to explore here. One day we may have electromagnetic implants that restrict different parts of our brain to grant us conscious control over the rest. It’s all very theoretical at this point. Yet we may find that the core of the advanced computer of the future has already been built and has been resting in our skulls all this time.

Source: Singularity Hub, Aaron Saenz, August 4th, 2010;, Center for the Mind, Snyder et al Royal Society 2009 ;

A Highly Evolved Human Brain

According to David Linden a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, the human brain relies heavily on structures found in lower animals. These functions play key roles in our everyday life.

A lizard brain is about survival — it controls heart rate and breathing, and processes information from the eyes and ears and mouth.

When mammals like mice came along, the lizard brain didn’t go away. The evolution slapped more brain on top of the lizard brain which then became the brain stem. These new parts gave mammals more memory and a wider range of emotions. It also allows them to do things a lizard can’t, like using experiences to anticipate danger instead of just responding to it.

And then the evolution added another layer to the brain that allows for example apes to reason and live much more complicated lives than mice.

In these brains you can find all of the very same parts that you would see in a human brain; except that the brain of an adult human is about three times the size of a gorilla brain. Much of the size difference appears after birth. The human brain continues to grow rapidly for the first five years after birth. It takes 20 years before all the circuits are laid out and connected up, Linden says.

As a result of having a bif size brain, there are enough neurons in our cortical circuit, massively interconnected, that the amazing human traits emerges from, such as: the ability to know what others are thinking based on social cues that people give them, other forms of observational learning and high-level cognition.

…and the highest payoff of our massive brain is the feeling of love and compassion.

Source: N.P.R; Jon Hamilton, August 9, 2010

Romantic Rejection Stimulates Different Areas in Brain

The pain and anguish of rejection by a romantic partner may be the result of activity in parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

The participants said they spent more than 85% of their waking hours thinking of the person who rejected them, they yearned for the person to return and they wanted to get back together. The researchers found that looking at photographs of the participants’ former partners stimulated several key areas of the participants’ brains more than looking at photos of neutral persons did. Theses areas are:

  • the ventral tegmental area in the mid-brain, which controls motivation and reward and is known to be involved in feelings of romantic love
  • the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex, which are associated with craving and addiction, specifically the dopaminergic reward system evident in cocaine addiction, and
  • the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate, which are associated with physical pain and distress.

The researchers note that their findings supply evidence that “the passion of ‘romantic love’ is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion” and that their results are “consistent with the hypothesis that romantic rejection is a specific form of addiction.” Those who are coping with a romantic rejection may be fighting against a strong survival system that appears to be the basis of many addictions. The data help to explain why the beloved is so difficult to give up.

The researchers also found that the greater the number of days since the rejection, the less activity there was in the area of the brain associated with attachment. Also, areas associated with reappraising difficult emotional situations and assessing one’s gains and losses were activated, suggesting that rejected individuals are trying to understand and learn from their difficult situation–what could be an adaptive response to rejection. If attachment responses decrease as the days go by and falling out of love is a learning process, there could very well be physiological evidence that time heals all wounds.

Source: Brain Mysteries July, 10 2010

Common Faults in Human Thought

A cognitive bias is something that our minds commonly do to distort our own view of reality. Some are adaptive, for example, because they lead to more effective actions in given contexts or enable faster decisions when faster decisions are of greater value. Others result from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms, or from the misapplication of a mechanism that is adaptive under different circumstances.
Here are some examples:

Gambler’s Fallacy
The Gambler’s fallacy is the tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality, they are not. Certain probabilities, such as getting a heads when you flip a (fair) coin, are always the same. The probability of getting a heads is 50%, it does not matter if you’ve gotten tails the last 10 flips.

Reactivity is the tendency of people to act or appear differently when they know that they are being observed.

Pareidolia is when random images or sounds are perceived as significant. The Rorschach Inkblot test was developed to use pareidolia to tap into people’s mental states. Testees are shown images of ambiguous pictures, and asked to describe what they see. Responses are analyzed to discover the testee’s hidden thoughts.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy
Self-fulfilling prophecy is engaging in behaviors that obtain results that confirm existing attitudes. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that causes itself to become true. For example, I believe that I am going to do poorly in school, so I decrease the effort I put into my assignments and studying, and I end up doing poorly, just as I thought.

Economic Recessions are self-fulfilling prophecies. Because a recession is 2 quarters of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline, you cannot know you are in a recession until you are at least 6 months into one. Unfortunately, at the first sign of decreasing GDP, the media reports a possible recession, people panic and start a chain of events that actually cause a recession.

The Halo Effect
The Halo effect is the tendency for an individual’s positive or negative trait to “spill over” to others’ perception of them. For example, the Physical Attractiveness Stereotype is when people assume that attractive individuals possess other socially desirable qualities, such as happiness, success and intelligence. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when attractive people are given privileged treatment such as better job opportunities and higher salaries.

Herd Mentality
Herd mentality is the tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict.

Reactance is the urge to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do out of a need to resist a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice. “Reverse Psychology” is an attempt to influence people using reactance. Tell someone (particularly children) to do the opposite of what you really want, and they will rebel and actually end up doing what you want.

Hyperbolic Discounting
Hyperbolic discounting is the tendency for people to prefer a smaller, immediate payoff over a larger, delayed payoff. Interestingly, delay time is a big factor in choosing an alternative in decision making. Put simply, most people would choose to get 20 dollars today instead of getting 100 dollars one year from today.

Escalation of Commitment
Escalation of commitment is the tendency for people to continue to support previously unsuccessful endeavors.

The Placebo Effect
The Placebo effect is when an ineffectual substance that is believed to have healing properties produces the desired effect. Especially common with medications, the placebo effect has been observed when individuals given a sugar pill for a real ailment report improvement.

Confirmation Bias
The confirmation bias is the tendency to look for or interpret information in a way that confirms beliefs. Individuals reinforce their ideas and attitudes by selectively collecting evidence or retrieving biased memories.

Availability Heuristic
The Availability heuristic is gauging what is more likely based on vivid memories. The problem is individuals tend to remember unusual events more than everyday, commonplace events. For example, airplane crashes receive lots of national media coverage. Fatal car crashes do not. However, more people are afraid of flying than driving a car, even though statistically airplane travel is safer.

Illusion of Control
Illusion of Control is the tendency for individuals to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they clearly have no influence on. For example when playing craps in a casino, people will throw the dice hard when they need a high number and soft when they need a low number. In reality, the strength of the throw will not guarantee a certain outcome, but the gambler believes they can control the number they roll.

Planning Fallacy
The Planning fallacy is the tendency to underestimate the time needed to complete tasks. The planning fallacy actually stems from another error, the “Optimism Bias”, which is the tendency for individuals to be overly positive about the outcome of planned actions. People are more susceptible to the planning fallacy when the task is something they have never done before. The reason for this is because we estimate based on past experiences. “Realistic Pessimism” is a phenomenon where depressed or overly pessimistic people more accurately predict task completion estimations.

Restraint Bias
Restraint Bias is the tendency to overestimate one’s ability to show restraint in the face of temptation, or the “perceived ability to have control over an impulse,” generally relating to hunger, drug and sexual impulses. The truth is people do not have control over visceral impulses; you can ignore hunger, but you cannot wish it away. Unfortunately, this bias has serious consequences. When an individual has an inflated (perceived) sense of control over their impulses, they tend to overexpose themselves to temptation, which in turn promotes the impulsive behavior.

Just-World Phenomenon
The Just-World Phenomenon is when witnesses of an injustice, in order to rationalize it, will search for things that the victim did to deserve it. This eases their anxiety and allows them to feel safe; if they avoid that behavior, injustice will not happen to them. This peace of mind comes at the expense of blaming the innocent victim. The Mean World Theory is a phenomenon where, due to violent television and media, viewers perceive the world as more dangerous than it really is, prompting excessive fear and protective measures.

Endowment Effect
The Endowment Effect is the idea that people will require more to give up an object than they would pay to acquire it. It is based on the hypothesis that people place a high value on their property. This happens frequently when people sell their cars and ask more than the book value of the vehicle, and nobody wants to pay the price. This bias is linked to two theories; “loss aversion” says that people prefer to avoid losses rather than obtain gains, and “status quo” bias says that people hate change and will avoid it unless the incentive to change is significant.

Self-Serving Bias
A Self-Serving Bias occurs when an individual attributes positive outcomes to internal factors and negative outcomes to external factors. This is very common as people regularly take credit for successes but refuse to accept responsibility for failures. When considering the outcomes of others, we attribute causes exactly the opposite as we do to ourselves. When we learn that the person who sits next to us failed the exam, we attribute it to an internal cause: that person is stupid or lazy. Likewise, if they aced the exam, they got lucky, or the professor likes them more. This is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Cryptomnesia is a form of misattribution where a memory is mistaken for imagination. Also known as inadvertent plagiarism, this is actually a memory bias where a person (inaccurately) recalls producing an idea or thought. There are many proposed causes of Cryptomnesia, including cognitive impairment, and lack of memory reinforcement. False Memory Syndrome is a controversial condition where an individual’s identity and relationships are affected by false memories that are strongly believed to be true by the afflicted. Recovered Memory Therapies including hypnosis, probing questions and sedatives are often blamed for these false memories.

Bias Blind
The Bias blind spot is the tendency not to acknowledge one’s own thought biases. There is actually a bias to explain this bias (imagine that!). The Better-Than-Average Bias is the tendency for people to inaccurately rate themselves as better than the average person on socially desirable skills or positive traits. Coincidentally, they also rate themselves as lower than average on undesirable traits.

Attribute Substitution
This explain cognitive biases. Attribute substitution is a process individuals go through when they have to make a computationally complex judgment. Instead of making the difficult judgment, we unconsciously substitute an easily calculated heuristic (Heuristics are strategies using easily accessible, though loosely related, information to aid problem solving). These heuristics are simple rules that everyone uses everyday when processing information, they generally work well for us; however, they occasionally cause systematic errors, aka, cognitive biases.

Source: Listverse, June 2010

The More People Want Something, the Less They’ll Like It

The findings of a research conducted at Stanford University Graduate School of Business suggests that denying people access to a product will make them desire it more and work harder to get it—but will also make them less likely to keep it.

The boost to value comes from knowing we devoted extra effort to acquiring it, but it also has a negative self concept impact because we did not succeed on the first try. Desire and liking are independent from each other and also interact in strange ways. The more we want something, the less we’ll actually like it. It’s a lusting/loathing thing. The lusting/loathing effects were more intense with people who were less emotional, as measured on standard scales. “Emotional” people did not show the effect as strongly.

The results of this research make it clear that marketers should be cautious about using a strategic shortage to generate demand. It will increase demand right now but can have other costs. It will have implications for other products in your brand, repeat purchases, and loyalty. It comes down to what the goal of the company is. If it’s to make quarterly numbers, denying access may be a useful tool. It could be that marketers know what they’re doing and want those short-term gains; but it’s not a healthy long-term strategy.

Source: Harvard Business Review
Uzma Khan is an assistant professor of marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business