Category Archives: brain

The Chemistry of Positive Social Interactions In Leadership


 

 

 

 

 

Oxytocin has been described as the molecule of social connection associated with positive traits like trust, cooperation, and empathy.

Judith and Richard Glaser published an article in HBR on the results of a study that analyzed the hormonal response of positive and negative behaviors in managers. Source: blogs.hbr.org

Oxytocin is the hormone that we produce when we feel good during a conversation like positive feedback. Cortisol is the hormone of stress produced when we have fear of being criticized or rejected.

Cortisol stays much longer in the blood than oxytocin that is why we remember more negative comments than positive ones.

So the article suggests to be mindful of the behaviors that open us up, and those that close us down, in our relationships:

Behaviors that send positive messages:

  • Concern for others
  • Curiosity
  • Paint picture of mutual success
  • Open to difficult conversation

Behaviors that send negative messages:

  • Don’t trust others
  • Focus on convincing others
  • Pretend to be listening

Separately  I found other interesting studies showing that oxytocin levels increased in dog owners and their dogs after physical contact: Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin

There is also evidences that oxytocin doesn’t make people more moral or immoral. It shifts people’s focus from themselves to their group or tribe . As a consequence, people may also exhibit more racism and intercultural or inter group clashes when those behaviors favor the group interests (Carsten de Dreu: Does the ‘love hormone’ foster racism? ).

“When you give preferential treatment to your in-group as ethnocentrism, you implicitly indirectly discriminate against people who do not belong to your in-group. And they feel that, they feel resentment, they may protest, so indirectly, it could be that oxytocin contributes to inter-group tensions” Carsten de Dreu

What oxytocin does is that once you see people as [belonging to your] in-group, you come to like them even more. Oxytocin doesn’t make you a racist; it makes you like and commit to your in-group.

Neuromyths Busting and Education


English: PET scan of a normal human brain

English: PET scan of a normal human brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The OECD’s Brain and Learning project (2002) emphasized that many misconceptions about the brain exist among professionals in the field of education. Though these so-called “neuromyths” are loosely based on scientific facts, they may have adverse effects on educational practice. 

Here the list of some of the biggest neuromyths, or misguided beliefs about brain functions and their impact on learning and education design:

1-We use only 10 percent of our brains.

Wikipedia collected the refutations of the myth in its  “Ten Percent Of The Brain Myth” page Neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein sets out several kinds of evidence refuting the ten percent myth, here the top three most evident for me:

  • Studies of brain damage: If 90% of the brain is normally unused, then damage to these areas should not impair performance. Instead, there is almost no area of the brain that can be damaged without loss of abilities. Even slight damage to small areas of the brain can have profound effects.
  • Brain scans have shown that no matter what we’re doing, our brains are always active up to 45%. Some areas are more active at any one time than others, but unless we have brain damage, there is no one part of the brain that is absolutely not functioning.
  • Brain imaging: Technologies such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow the activity of the living brain to be monitored. They reveal that even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity. Only in the case of serious damage does a brain have “silent” areas.

2-The brain is static, unchanging, and set before you start school. The most widely accepted conclusion of current research in neuroscience is  neuroplasticity: Our brains grow, change, and adapt at all times in our lives depending on stimulus received from our environment. Therefore the more we use our brain at any age, the more we can develop connections and learn new skills even new languages. Experts routinely take the time to learn, unlearn and relearn relevant information related to their fields of expertise. There is a lot of new research going on in the field of cultural neurosciences, looking at the relations existing between cultural dimensions and the brain’s plasticity. Although most people think that good memory means good retrieval, good memory is actually good learning–forming a strong association when acquiring new information.

3-Some people are left-brained and some are right-brained. Like many other myths, this one has emerged from a misunderstanding of experiments made by 1981 Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry, who noticed differences in the brain when he studied people whose left and right brains had been surgically disconnected. Today, neuroscientists know that the two sides of the brain work together to perform a wide variety of tasks and that the two hemispheres communicate through the corpus callosum.

4-Male and female brains are radically different. Though there may be subtle differences between male and female brains, there is absolutely no significant evidence to suggest that the genders learn or should be taught differently. 

5-The ages 0-3 are more important than any other age for learning. Even though the connections between neurons, called synapses, are greatest in number during this period there are few studies that have to do with teaching during these “critical” time periods.

Still, there are some powerful insights emerging from brain science that speak directly to how we teach in the classroom: learning experiences do help the brain grow, emotional safety does influence learning, and making lessons relevant can help information stick. The trick is separating the meat from the marketing.

 Related resources:

FAKE IT UNTIL YOU BECOME IT: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are | Video on TED.com


See on Scoop.itGlobal Leaders
Amy Cuddy on TED Talks Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. 

See on www.ted.com

 

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

 

  • Our bodies change our minds,

  • Our minds change our behaviors

  • Our behaviors change our outcomes

Our mind influences our body and our body reacts to our thoughts by producing hormones such as testosterone and cortisol.

When you are stressed you produce high level of cortisol and your body reacts by trying to protect you, you look like a loser, you avoid eye contact, close your arms, make your body stance smaller.

When you are self-confident, your body produces testosterone and you have low-level of cortisol. You have much more presence, appear charismatic, passionate, confident, authentic, captivating.

Faking being confident  for 2 minutes by adopting a powerful body stance can trick your body to produce more testosterone and less cortisol and you actually LOOK and ARE more confident.

In real life people judge you on your body language in few seconds so in job interview situations for example it pays off to fake it until you become it

Tiny tweaks (2 minutes) can lead to BIG CHANGES

Before an important talk or meeting or job interview, for 2 min configure your brain to feel  confidence by adopting a powerful body posture.

Related article: 

Facial Expressions Of Emotion Across Cultures: Are They Innate or Learned ?

Living Abroad: In What Language Do You Feel Emotions ?


A bilingual French-Dutch traffic sign in Brussels

A bilingual French-Dutch traffic sign in Brussels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across this interesting article about some studies on languages used by multilingual third culture kids (TCKs) to express various emotions in different situations.

Language is strongly tied to identity and when we speak more than one language the one we chose to speak  is often very specific to certain contexts and the sociocultural environment.  When I was based in Japan, I have been intrigued to see French siblings speaking Japanese while playing together at home even if there were in a French school with Japanese students but with French parents 

As far as emotions is concerned I have not observed any specific language pattern in my son to express emotions and feelings. My son will often speak to me in English when it is about a story he is reading or a movie he is watching or to tell what happened at school but Interestingly he has certain movies that he watches exclusively in French and others exclusively in English without apparent specific rules except the obvious ones like watching “Harry Potter” in English because the story is based in England and because he reads the books in English. Also movies that mock the French accent like in the Pink Panther series. 

When he is with French adults he uses sophisticated vocabulary with few grammar errors and with younger French children he will show a lot of non-verbal empathy. With English speakers he will use exclusively English both for facts or expressing emotions. At home with us, when arguing or upset he often switches to English but not always.

Since he has been in a bilingual environment from birth to now, 10 years later,  his brain has probably been developed differently than mine who acquired bilingualism later as a young adult. Some researches in neuroscience have shown that when learning two languages almost simultaneously there is one unique zone in the brain that is activated for language perception and interpretation while when the second language is acquired later as adults there are two distinct parts that are activated for each language.

In my case, I think in English for work and I prefer to write in English too. I read business or self-help books in English but read novels, thrillers and other form of non-professional literature exclusively in French. However interestingly I write in my personal Facebook profile mainly in English unless there are specific jokes I can’t translate from French to English that I will share with my circle of fiends who speak French. I use Twitter and Linkedin exclusively in English because for me they are  professional tools and I can’t share emotions on those platforms.

According to François Grosjean, Ph.D.,  Emeritus Professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. it is too simplistic to suggest that late bilinguals have emotional ties only with their first language and no ties with their other language(s). In his article Emotions in More than One Language” he mentioned many cases of people who don’t use the first language or mother tongue to express emotions but may use one language or another based on  their emotional experiences in various languages.

 In sum, expressing emotions in more than one language follows no set rules; some bilinguals prefer to use one language, some the other, and some both-Francois Grosjean

What about your experience as bilingual or raising bilingual children ?

Moving Overseas? Don’t Make Big Decisions Under pressure!


If you are an expatriate moving abroad this summer, chances are high that you are under great pressure and stress. You have made the decision to relocate few months ago, although it feels like years. Your partner is already working in your future country and you are the “trailing spouse” in charge of executing the relocation strategy. Now unexpected problems are suddenly on your way and you are facing many dilemmas.

Here some common questions expats have to ask themselves that can lead to really bad decisions if we are overwhelmed and under stress:

  • Should I sell or rent my house while living abroad ? ( Read : http://www.expatguy.com/)
  • What shall I do If the house is not sold before leaving ?
  • How should I sell my car? to a car dealer or a stranger on eBay or Craig list ?
  • Shall I plan the packing date before finding my new house abroad?
  • What do I need to  put in local storage and what must be shipped overseas ?
  • Should I rent a temporary apartment in my new destination or make a house hunt a priority before moving
  • What should I do about schools if my children are on waiting lists of several schools and cannot go to local school due to language barrier ?
  • Should I stay one more school year where I live to get more time to plan the move ?

It is not rare that we have to make big decisions when we are under some kind of pressure such as lack of time, social pressure, too many options, not enough information, highly complex situations or emotional stress.

When we are under pressure, rushed and stressed we are not in the best situation to make rational decisions.  Our emotional brain takes the control of our rational brain, and we make emotional decisions to get instant gratification and relief from the pressure. For example some people overeat or overspend when they are in such emotional state that leads to either poor decision-making or impaired impulse control.

Most of the time, pressure can’t be avoided but we can learn to switch our mind to a non-emotional and objective state to make the best decisions we can based on facts while being conscious of the emotional part of the decision process.

To get an objective mindset is really important to avoid making a bad decision we will regret for years to come. We can’t eliminate all the subjectivity of our emotions, bu we can minimize that bias and make the best decision we can  with the information we have.

Here some tips on getting a quiet mind and make rational decisions:

1-Don’t panic: The worst thing that can happen is to rush decisions too early

2-Keep your options open as long as possible : Don’t plan packing before you know the size of your future home. Better to spend money on flight tickets than having to deal with costly shipment and trashing your furniture.

3-Plan for the worst-case scenario : In case things don’t work overseas have a plan to go back where you live (keep your house for example)

4-Recognize your limitations:  You are not Captain America or Wonder Woman, nothing should be perfect. You have to admit that sometimes you can be an insecure person who doesn’t like to show shortage of knowledge.

5-Keep your pride and ego away You told the world you are going to live a great adventure abroad, friends said goodbye and you keep going just because you don’t want to admit you made a mistake. Better have shame than regrets

6-Be incredibly selfish:.Most trailing spouses are women who put other’s needs before their own needs: children, husband, old parents and so on. To be selfish is about taking the time to focus on your needs, listen to your emotions and to take care of yourself no matter how busy you life is. To be selfish is not being needy or egoist, it is a very healthy habit that helps create both emotional and physical well-being. You create more inner peace, joy and a natural balance.

7-Stay connected: As most expats you may have many expat friends on social networks like Facebook. Sharing your doubts, frustration and other emotions to like-minded people is a great coping strategy and helps you gain clarity about your thought process.. Don’t isolate yourself from local friends and neighbors because you are leaving, meet them until the last minute.

 Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is intentional

How Cultures Impact The Brain and Expat Lives?


Frontotemporal degeneration

Image via Wikipedia

1-Basic concepts of cultural neurosciences

There is a lot of new research going on in the field of cultural neurosciences, looking at the relations existing between cultural dimensions and the brain’s activity referred by some scientists as  brain’s plasticity.

Tufts University psychologist  Dr Nalini Ambad conducted several studies suggesting that culture influences brain development.  In one of her article: Culture and the Brain,  she introduces the concept of culture mapping.:

Culture mapping can show how the same environment is processed differently by individuals from different cultures.

On the perception of self for example,  American and  Japanese people  have a totally different view. Americans tend to be assertive and put the individual first while Japanese put the harmony of the group at their first priority resulting in activation of different parts of the brain in social interactions.

There are at least three sources of cultural universals and differences: genetic commonality or difference, cultural learning mediated by brain plasticity, and the degree of similarity between cultural environments.

You can also listen to Dr Nalini Ambad podcast on “The Neuroscience of Culture.”


2-What are the implications for expatriates ?

  • Selecting the right people for international assignments:  Global companies should start to look how to use that knowledge to select individuals who have the right cultural mindset and “wires” acquired through experiences abroad.
  • What are the best ways  of teaching cross-cultural communication?
  • Is there universal leadership skills ?
  • Raising global citizens: The question that all expat parents should ask themselves is what is the true impact on the development of their children exposed to various cultures and languages  when the brain is at different stages of development ?

There is a lot more  unanswered questions regarding the future for our children (the TCKs) ? The long-term psychological impact for serial expats like me ? The role of social media and mobile technologies in the dissemination of universal values ?

Praise and Incentives: Are Carrots Worse Than Sticks?


How many times do you say  “good job” or  “I am proud of you” to your kids ? Do you give them money or buy them candies if they behave well or get good marks at school?

What about your employees ?  Do you give them extra money if they exceed their goals ?

The way you encourage and praise kids and adults  is very cultural.  For example in France, Japan or China praise is rare.  Those cultures think that too much praise will spoil the children and prevent them from making efforts to get results. On the other hand, in America, it is almost considered as a crime if you don’t praise your kids for anything and everything they do. Most teachers and parents think that praising children is good for their self-esteem.

Our basic strategy for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you’ll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way that we train the family pet.

In the famous book, “Punished by Rewards”, Alfie Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm.

On a short-term basis, praise do increase the motivation in children and adults for boosting  the performance at school or at work. However many evidence-based studies show that in the long run the motivation is actually decreasing. Those studies also demonstrated that  both in children and adults praise kills risk-taking attitude and creativity.

In one experiment, two groups of children in 5th grade  were asked to make an easy puzzle for everyone. In one group the children have been told that they were very intelligent and the other group that they worked hard. Then the same groups of students got the option to choose between doing another easy puzzle or a more difficult and challenging one. In the group who was told they were very intelligent, the majority selected the easy one  while in the other group more children choose to take the challenge of making a more difficult task.

Kids praised for being smart want to keep looking good, therefore they avoid taking risks or more challenges due to fear of failure preventing them to learn new things. They have also a tendency to be competitive and benchmarking themselves with other kids. On the contrary, the children who have been told they worked hard learned that by working harder they can learn more and preferred the challenging task.

In this article “effect of praise” there are  good tips on how to praise kids the right way.

In business, financial incentives like sales commissions and bonuses  are the most common ways used to motivate people and reward performance despite the fact that most economic and behavioral scientific studies demonstrate that  it doesn’t work. Companies like Google, Apple or Zappos  use different approaches based on intrinsic motivation rather than external rewards and get better results on how workers are engaged and creative.

The If-Then-Rewards model destroys creativity

In this video:  TED talk, Dan Pink demonstrates that financial incentives don’t work on productivity and motivation for most people working in jobs that require more than just following simple tasks. What works on a long run is employee’s autonomy, engagement, mastery and purpose

Dan Ariely and co-workers also demonstrated in experiments published in the “Large Stakes and Big Mistakes article,  that big financial incentive backfire:

Many institutions provide very large incentives for tasks that require creativity, problem solving, and memory. Our results challenge the assumption that increases in motivation would necessarily lead to improvements in performance. Across multiple tasks (with one important exception), higher monetary incentives led to worse performance.  the largest the financial incentives the poorest the performance were .

In thisvideo, Freaknomics‘s author Steve Levitt  found also lot of evidence that  giving financial incentive don’t work.

In conclusion, While most people think intuitively that too much punishment may not be an effective way to improve performance on cognitive tasks such as learning or being creative,  the negative impact of over-praising or offering large incentives is ignored by most parents, teachers and companies. Anything that stimulates intrinsic motivation such as autonomy and independence, overcoming personal challenges or problem solving is the way both schools and companies should base their incentive programs.

Related  links:
http://www.parentingscience.com/theory-of-intelligence.html
http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/newthinking/largestakes.pdf

How To Deal With Emotional Eating While In Transition?


 

I am not talking about the  few pounds or kilos you usually gain after overeating for one or two feast meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

"Emotional eating junk food"

What I am talking about is a long-term approach to both weight gain and weight loss that many people struggle with during major transitions in response to stress and negative emotions. When people are stressed, their brain send wrong signals to their body and they are looking  at food, especially highly refined, sugary and fatty junk food, to stimulate the pleasure center and calm them down.

No diet, no exercise program, no surgery will relieve you of your addiction to food. Why?  Because they do not address the profound reasons for your bad eating habits.

For many expatriates there are many obvious and not so obvious reasons to compensate negative emotions with junk  food or overeating:

  1. Moving every 2 to 5 years
  2. Stress of packing and unpacking stuff,
  3. Not able to cook healthy food in your own kitchen while  in transit
  4. No time for exercising
  5. Cross-cultural issues
  6. Being isolated and  bored alone at home
  7. Being pregnant and having a baby abroad
  8. Working spouse travelling much more than previous situation
  9. Chaos and unstructured environment
  10. Loss of  support network of fiends and family or colleagues
  11. Frustration, anger and resentment of not liking your new environment
  12. Loss of status
  13. Poor self-esteem
  14. Feeling insecure
  15. No access to health care and therapists in your own language

The more you eat and gain weight the more frustrated you get and the more you eat. This is a vicious circle that becomes a habit. The first year of an expatriation you recognize that the 10 pounds or 6 kilos you gained are related to few or all of  the reasons listed above and once you are ready,  you know you can get read of the extra weight by having a healthier diet and resume your physical activities. This is fine except that having your weight up and down like a yo-yo can trigger more serious health problems such as diabetes , hypertension and heart attacks if it becomes a habit. In addition as you get older it becomes more difficult to lose this extra weight.

Of course this is not an issue for expatriates only,  most overweight and obese people experience the same negative emotional eating pattern. The problem when you are living abroad is the lack of appropriate care and specific support because of cultural barriers or a drastic change in  lifestyle.

Here some tips :

1-  Look for professional help such as cognitive therapy to change your response to stress and negative emotions : Robin Pascoe has written a very good article about : Finding a therapist while living abroad.

2-If boredom is the reason for overeating, think about a project you always wanted to do or something you wanted to learn but you never had time for:  ask people who share same interests to help you find the resources. If you don’t understand the local language look for local publications in English, networking and support groups in English

3-Volunteer at school, be involved in your local community, teach your language or other things you are good at. Giving without expecting anything in return and helping others usually trigger the production of pleasure hormones in your brain so you are less tempted to eat to get the same good feeling.

4-Exercising is good but try to find outdoor physical activities with possibilities to socialize by joining a group such a walking, hiking, biking or even visiting local attractions. I love doing aerobic or dance classes but usually people don’t really have time to socialize at the gym.

5-Be kind to yourself : accept emotional eating as a legitimate coping choice and tolerate some craving. Organize regularly a dinner or a lunch with your spouse or friends and eat what you like. Get back on track the next couple of days by eating fish, lean meats and vegetables, do one more hour of exercise  during the week.

6-Do not multi-task while eating: Make a conscious choice of what you are eating sit down and concentrate on eating only. Eat slowly, pause often, use small plates.

How To Become A Successful Innovator. Part I: Break The Rules!


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.-Albert Einstein

By reaction to this quote,  my definition of creativity is “doing things that you usually do in a different way to get different results”. Creativity is also something you do that other people say it is impossible. To be a creative person means you not only enjoy what you do, but you get immersed in a state of mind called “flow”

Creativity begins with perception. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain interprets signals from your eyes, ears or other senses by stimulating different areas of your brain. How you process those information depends on what you have learned and experienced. Your experience shapes how your neurones are connected that is why, the more you repeat an activity the better you become at doing this activity… and the more resistant to change.

In order to think creatively, START BREAKING THE RULES. You must develop new neural pathways. But the brain is a “lazy muscle”,  naturally phobic to change and the unknown! The more you do creativity-boosting activities, move out of your comfort zone and experience new things, the more creative you will be. Being an iconoclast is basically what Seth Godin is preaching in his book “Linchpin”.

If you love what you do and become passionate at  breaking the rules, then you get intrinsic motivation to try the impossible and get the courage to be confronted by the experts.

In the following  presentation you will see how our brain perceives and interprets stimulus, individual behaviors, impact on communication and creativity. In the next post : Part II: Create The State Of  Flow, I will provide some additional researches about how the brain  works when it is at is peak of creativity and how to set the stage for creative thinking.

Resources:

  • More details in this article from Fast Company: What neuroscience reveals about how to come up with new ideas http://bit.ly/atwKaW
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