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SCARF - A Neuroleadership Model

In a world of increasing interconnectedness and rapid change, there is a growing need to improve the way people work together. Understanding the true drivers of human social behavior is becoming ever more urgent in this environment.

LeadershipByDesign has submitted this article by David Rock, Co-Founder and Editor of the NeuroLeadership Institute.

The study of the brain, particularly within the field of social, cognitive and affective neuroscience is starting to provide some underlying brain insights that can be applied in the real world (Lieberman, 2007).

Social neuroscience explores the biological foundations of the way humans relate to each other and to themselves and covers diverse topics that have a different degree to which they can be operationalized and unambiguously tested.

Topics include: theory of mind, the self, mindfulness, emotional regulation, attitudes, stereotyping, empathy, social pain, status, fairness, collaboration, connectedness, persuasion, morality, compassion, deception, trust and goal pursuit.

From this diversity, two themes are emerging from social neuroscience.

  1. Firstly, that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward (Gordon, 2000).
  2. Secondly, that several domains of social experience draw upon the same brain networks to maximize reward and minimize threat as the brain networks used for primary survival needs (Lieberman and eisenberger, 2008).

In other words, social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food and water.

The SCARF Model summarizes these two themes within a framework that captures the common factors that can activate a reward or threat response in social situations. This model can be applied (and tested) in any situation where people collaborate in groups, including all types of workplaces, educational environments, family settings and general social events.

The SCARF model involves five domains of human social experience:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness and
  • Fairness.

STATUS is about relative importance to others. CERTAINTY concerns being able to predict the future. AUTONOMY provides a sense of control over events. RELATEDNESS is a sense of safety with others, of friend rather than foe. And FAIRNESS is a perception of fair exchanges between people.

These five domains activate either the ‘primary reward’ or ‘primary threat’ circuitry (and associated networks) of the brain. For example, a perceived threat to one’s status activates similar brain networks to a threat to one’s life. in the same way, a perceived increase in fairness activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward.

The model enables people to more easily remember, recognize, and potentially modify the core social domains that drive human behavior. Labelling and understanding these drivers draws conscious awareness to otherwise non conscious processes, which can help in two ways.

  1. Firstly, knowing the drivers that can cause a threat response enables people to design interactions to minimize threats. For example, knowing that a lack of autonomy activates a genuine threat response, a leader or educator may consciously avoid micromanaging their employees or students.
  2. Secondly, knowing about the drivers that can activate a reward response enables people to motivate others more effectively by tapping into internal rewards, thereby reducing the reliance on external rewards such as money. For example, a line manager might grant more autonomy as a reward for good performance.

If you wish to download the whole article and in PDF format, follow the link to LeadershipByDesign's website and click on the item under "Be Curious".


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