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The Neuroscience of Winning or Losing

By | David Klaasen | Helping You Create Clarity, Inspire Your People & Drive Performance | Retain your best people | Changing Management Mindsets and Behaviour | Practical Behaviour Analytics

The global pandemic is wreaking havoc with people’s status. Some people feel they are gaining status because their team or their role has suddenly become very important, while others can be experiencing a drop in status because their team has been furloughed, disbanded or perhaps made redundant.

Accidental connections

Recent studies show that if situations like the one above aren’t carefully managed, a cocktail of neurochemicals like adrenalin and norepinephrine are released by the brain and the limbic system is activated. The limbic system is a region of the brain that triggers emotions and memories that may be many years – if not decades – old. Once aroused it thinks very pessimistically and makes accidental connections. This creates a strong ‘fight or flight’ response because it is looking for problems and remembering painful emotions.

In his fascinating book “Your Brain at Work” David Rock explains that the balance of how we feel amongst others is actually dictated by our perception of Status. Your brain maintains and continuously updates complex maps of the “Pecking Order” of the people around you.  The studies he mentions in the book show that you create a representation of your own and someone else’s status in the brain whenever you communicate and this influences how you react with others.  Changes in status (your perception of the pecking order) bring about changes in how millions of neurons are connected. This is powerful stuff because it’s one of the primary rewards or threats in human beings.

Rock mentions that “If you have ever been in a relationship where one partner starts earning more money than the other you will have perceived these wide-scale changes in brain circuitry taking place and which can bring some interesting challenges”.

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