Tag Archives: Social Sciences

Am happy, will be paranoid/ gullible; am sad, will be realistic


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Happiness may lead to mood-congruent effects of increasing trust(a positive emotion itself) in interpersonal situations;  an alternative theory is that happiness leads to top-down processing , thus relying more on activated schema , stereotypes etc and thus leading to more trust when trust schema or cues are salient and distrust when untrustworthy schema / cues are active.

As per the mood-congruent theory of effect of happiness, surmised that happy people would be more trusting and there would be a main effect of happiness manipulation on trust in experimental settings.  As per the assimilation-accommodation theory, viz that happiness leads to assimilation or use of existing constructs (stereotype./ schema etc) while sadness leads to accommodation or bottom-up processing whereby new constructs may be created, the conjecture is that happy people will show trust in trust situations and distrust in distrust situations and thus there would be an interaction effect in 2 (happiness/ neutral mood) x 2 (trust/distrust situation, stereotype or cue) study design.

These above two are competing hypothesis that make measurable and clearly different and distinguishable predictions and can be easily experimentally verified.

Robert Lount, Jr. set out to investigate precisely this piece of puzzle and his data supported the thesis that there is an interaction effect of mood on trust cues and thus happy people are more gullible  when trust cues/stereotypes are active; and also more paranoid or distrusting when distrust cues/ schema are active.

He performed a total of 5 different experiments to cement his thesis.

  • The first experiment relied on film clips to induce mood and dictator game to measure trust. Trustworthiness of the other party was manipulated by interpersonal vs inter group situation. As per a theoretical framework, by default in interpersonal interactions (say  trust games)  the other individuals believed to be trustworthy. In contrast in an inter-group interaction, in-group vs out-group psychology comes into play and the other group as a whole is believed to be inherently untrustworthy.  thus, in the first experiment they used interpersonal or inter-group conditions to manipulate trustworthiness cues and found the interaction effect of happiness and trust cues as hypothesized.
  • The second experiment was carried out to ascertain that it is indeed distrust in inter-group condition that is in play and leads to happy people showing distrust in distrust salient conditions. The paradigm used was modified prisoners dilemma in this case.
  • The third experiment did not use ingroup-outgroup factors but instead provided explicit information about the trustworthiness of a person and then measured the effect of mood on trust using the dictator game and found the same interaction effect of mood and trust cues as opposed to a direct main effect of affect on trust.

  • The fourth experiment used subtle implicit measures of trustworthiness/ untrustworthiness by utilizing computer generated facial features and used explicit measures of trust like rating the person as trustworthy when subjects mood had been manipulated. Again the interaction effect was observed.
  • The fifth and final experiment was performed to clarify that it is indeed the underlying activation of schema/ stereotype that is in play when happy people become gullible/ paranoid in presence of cues; and this was done by showing that normal people too , under cognitive load conditions, when they are known to rely on stereotypes/ schema, show the same interaction effects on trust.

Here are the conclusions from the study:

The results in this article are consistent with work demonstrating that a positive mood increases reliance upon stereotypes (Bless, Schwarz, & Wieland, 1996; Bodenhausen et al., 1994; Park & Banaji, 2000) and scripts in interdependent situations (Hertel et al., 2000). More pointedly, the findings from all five experiments supported the predictions of the accommodation–assimilation model (see Bless & Fiedler, 2006; Fiedler, 2001b, for reviews) over mood-congruency models. This leads to a fairly strong conclusion that the relationship between positive mood and trust depends, in large part, on available schemas, cues, and stereotypes.

To me the evidence is as good as it needs to be. It also fits in my broader context of seeing good/happy mood  as a precursor to mania whereby happiness leads to use of stereotypes/schema , leads to becoming more gullible/ paranoid / leading to psychoses.  although the present study did not had anything to say about sad mood (the contrast was with neutral mood) it is not unreasonable to extrapolate and claim that sad people are more realistic and depend on behavior of the other party rather than stereotypes to ascertain in whom to place their trust. this too fits in the broader scheme of things where sad mood is  a precursor to depression which has been shown to make people more realistic. If there is an upside to depression, the only one may be that it makes us more realistic/ rational.

Lount, R. (2010). The impact of positive mood on trust in interpersonal and intergroup interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (3), 420-433 DOI: 10.1037/a0017344

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Am happy, will be selfish; Am sad, will be fair. Oh Really?!?

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Many a times, researchers have their own personal agendas and its very human to fall in to the temptation to interpret study results or spin them to suit ones long term subject matter and expertise.  This is a trap in which Joe Forgas et al fall when they report in JESP that happy people are selfish and sad people are fair. They have a long research interest that goes aka sadness is beneficial for you and every result has to fit in that model.

In this latest study they use the behavior in the dictator game as a proxy for selfish behavior. the classical dictator game consist of giving a  sum of money to a person and asking them to divide it between themselves and another human being any way they deem fit. If an agent is rational , he should be purely selfish (there are assumed to be no future/past interactions and no reputations to maintain/ cultivate) . As is the normal finding, humans normally give upto 50 % of their share to another person in the dictator game although there are no obligations. As such , dictator game is indeed a good measure of internal selfishness of a person.

What Joe et al do is to induce good(happy)/bad(sad) mood  in their subjects and then ask them to play a version of the dictator game.  So far so good. However in their version of the dictator game , one is not given a sum of money to divide amongst oneself and someone else; but they are given 10 raffle tickets- each raffle ticket increasing the odds of winning a lottery of 20 $. Now ,here is where I think they have blundered an confounded the results. they have introduced odds and probability thinking in the scene and everyone knows that a normal person prefers a sure sum of money (10 $) over a chance of winning equivalent sum  (50 % chance of 0$ and 50  % chance of 20 $). Both utilities are mathematically equivalent but we are all normally risk-averse and prefer the assured sum. However, and this a big however, happy people are more risk prone and may prefer a chance much more than an assured sum. In sad mood things would be reverse.

Its not as if Joe et al are not aware of the happiness-risk proneness link, but they somehow ignore it and let it confound the results. To quote form the paper:

Happy mood may also function as a motivational resource (Trope, Ferguson, & Raghunanthan, 2001), allowing happy individuals to accept greater risks. These findings suggest that happy mood should promote a more confident, selfish allocation strategy, while negative mood should trigger more cautious, fair allocation.

Readers will immediately see where I am coming from. I am a huge fan of seeing happiness/ sadness in terms of environmental risk and safety and as motivational focus- promotion versus prevention focus. It is thus pretty obvious to me that a (or say 10) raffle ticket (a chance of winning 20 $) does not have the same value for a sad person a sit has for a happy person who is more in a risk -prone frame of mind. thus, it seems obvious that a happy person will adhere more utility to the raffle tickets and may not that readily part with them; while a person in a sad mood may think that chancy bit of paper as worthless and be more willing to share it with others. I challenge Joe et al to repeat the experiment with real money and not waffle tickets and then draw any conclusions.

Whats more in the first experiment (described above) the selfish tag on happy people was due to the fact that they did not share that much with out-groups. If out-groups (strangers ) were not present perhaps the results would not have been significant based on ingroup data alone. If, somehow, being sad broadens your vistas and makes you treat outgroups (strangers) the same as ingroups, then this would again confound the result and invalidate the conclusions reached by the authors. Of course this thesis that being sad ,makes you more open to strangers flies in face of the study I covered yesterday that sad people prefer familiarity;  but it is something to think about and design experiments to rule out.

Experiment 2 suffers from the same methodical flows. Experiment 3 tried to prove that when social expectations about being fair were relaxed, then happy people gave free rein to their selfishness and became selfish, while sad people remained fair and followed external norms of fairness. This is purportedly to relate it to the internal focus of selfish people and external focus of sad people and fit in a larger framework, but again it fails to convince me. At the outset let me clarify that I do adhere to happy people have internal focus while sad people are more driven by external norms. However the experiment they did supports my thesis sand not theirs.

In experiment 3, they manipulated the perceived social norm of fairness by revealing to subjects the behaviour of some hypothetical earlier participants in the dictator game. some were in the ‘fairness is the norm’ condition (more fair splits be earlier hypothetical participants), others were in the ‘fairness is not the norm’ condition- I like to call this ‘unfairness is the norm’ condition.

Now there are two caveats to this. First not everyone decides whether to act fairly or not based on existing norms. As per Kohlebrg’s or other modern developmental theories one sense of morality in an earlier stage may be driven by norms , but at later stages is determined by internal values and internalized norms. thus it is wrong to apriori believe that if people don’t act selfish it is because of pressure of the social norm of fairness. This is the position that study authors take and this is not necessarily true. Second, even if one grants that one works under social norms, it is false to believe that the social norm is fairness;  with the myriad misinterpretations of darwins theory selfishness has become the de facto social norm. Thus, one can as legitimately claim that selfishness is the existing norm that goes undermined by manipulations of experiment 3 and when primed with fair prior dictator behavior, gives free rein to mood effects to take place; while in the second condition where selfishness norm is reaffirmed there are no mood effects.

This hair splitting is important because in the third experiment they did not find a main effect of mood/ prior fairness norm  on dictator offerings, rather there was an interaction between the mood and prior priming. They found that when prior exposed to social norm of fairness there was no difference in happy and sad condition; the difference was there only in ‘selfishness is norm’ condition. One can thus, also interpret these findings as ‘selfishness is norm’ – in that selfishness norm when chances are involved happy people make more risky choices than sad people; however when the norm of selfishness is undermined, internal values like being fair (yes there is considerable literature that being fair is more natural and internally driven than being selfish)  takes hold and make seven happy people who value the raffle tickets a lot to become more fair and altruistic and share their tickets to the same extent as sad people do normally.

Its not as if they haven’t considered the dilemma of why the norm and undermining of it should be one way only. To quote:

Why did sad people not simply follow the norm – fairness or selfishness – and happy people follow their own internal state (i.e., ignore the norm and act selfishly) in this study? It is likely that information provided about the selfish behavior of others, being socially undesirable, could not invoke an acceptable, alternative shared social norm, and so served merely to undermine the powerful norm of fairness, allowing full scope for mood effects to occur. In contrast, information about the socially desirable, fair behavior by others served to reinforce a powerful existing social norm and so constrained mood effects, as found here.

So in summation, I am not convinced, I still believe the results they got are due to the happiness as increasing risk proneness effct. But I agree broadly with their thesis that sadness also has adaptive value and happiness should not be seen as all rosy and sadness all bad. The bad effect of extremes of euphoria/ mania are well known, to complement lets hear what they have to say of the good effect of sadness. I’ll like to end with their own quotes on this matter.

Interestingly, our results further challenge the common assumption in much of applied, organisational, clinical and health psychology that positive affect has universally desirable social consequences. Together with other recent experimental studies, our findings confirm that negative affect often produces adaptive and more socially sensitive outcomes. For example, negative moods can improve the detection of deception (Forgas & East, 2008), reduce judgmental errors (Forgas, 1998), improve eyewitness accuracy (Forgas, Vargas, & Laham, 2005), and improve interpersonal communication strategies (Forgas, 2007). The present experiments confirm this pattern by demonstrating that mild negative moods also increase fairness and sensitivity to the needs of others.

Tan, H., & Forgas, J. (2010). When happiness makes us selfish, but sadness makes us fair: Affective influences on interpersonal strategies in the dictator game Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.01.007

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Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why do you persist?


Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my fascination with Carol Dweck and her entity versus incremental theory of intelligence/ability that I have blogged about extensively in the past. To recap, people (children usually in her studies) can have a fixed entity view of intelligence that it is a stable trait whihc can/does not change with time; or they can have an incremental view of intelligence that focuses more on motivational states, goals, desires as determinant of success/intelligence exhibited and view it as a malleable and not a fixed trait.

A major paradigm she uses is documenting the behavior of those with chronic or induced entity vs incremental view of intelligence after receiving negative feedback/actual setbacks.  She has found that while entity theorists relate their failures to global traits like lack of intelligence and display subsequent helpless behavior;   the incremental self theorists display mastery oriented behavior, use new strategies and in general persist.  The big question then becomes why do they persists? and the surprising answer may be what Neo answered – ‘because I choose to’.

I recently came across this book  ‘Are we free’  about free will debate and in it was surprised to find a chapter by Carol Dweck and Daniel Molden titled “self-theories in the construction of free-will’  that builds on works of Carol et al to argue that those iwth fixed views of intelligence/morality basically are determinisms believing in a kind of genetic determinism, while the incremental theorists are sort of libertarians who believe that one can exercise choice over one’s behavior.  They also show that belief in free-will/incremental theories has a better life outcome.

I will now quote extensively form that lovely artcile:

Modern psychological research suggests that, at least within Western societies, belief in the power of the individual over the constraints of the environment predicts better psychological adjustment and greater personal success. As a rule, people appear to fare better with an internal versus external locus of control (Rotter, 1966), feelings of self-determination versus external constraints (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and use of primary control (direct, agentic action) over secondary control (adjusting to the environment or event without trying to affect it; Heckhausen & Shultz, 1995; Lazarus, 1991).

They then mention how even after having an inetrnal attribution, one may still differ in whether one attributes to fixed traits or malleable states.

We have investigated this issue by focusing on people’s beliefs about whether basic personal attributes (such as intelligence or personality) are fixed and static traits or, instead, more dynamic qualities that can be cultivated (Dweck, 1999; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). The former belief is termed an entity theory, because here the assumption is that human attributes are fixed entities that are not subject to personal development. The latter belief is termed an incremental theory, because here the assumption is that human attributes can be developed or changed incrementally through one’s efforts.
Research comparing entity and incremental theorists has uncovered marked differences, ones that have important implications for perceptions of free will (for reviews see Levy, Plaks, & Dweck, 1999; Molden & Dweck, 2006). Not only do entity theorists by definition believe in fixed traits, but they also believe that these traits directly cause behavior in a highly predictable way (Chiu, Hong, & Dweck, 1997; Hong, 1994). In contrast, not only do incremental theorists by definition believe in more dynamic, malleable traits, but they also believe that people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations—which they view as controllable— play the major role in causing their actions (Hong, 1994).4 Thus, both theories give the major causal role to factors inside the person, but those internal factors for entity theorists are not amenable to personal control, whereas those internal factors for incremental theorists are far more susceptible to it.

Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that different beliefs about the nature of people’s traits and abilities may profoundly alter people’s potential for perceptions of free will in choices and actions. Entity theorists’ greater emphasis on the deterministic influence of fixed internal traits could serve to give them a sense of a stable and predictable world, but at the same time, constrain perceived opportunities for choice and agency. In contrast, incremental theorists’ greater focus on people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations as causes of action—factors they believe can be controlled—could serve to enhance perceived opportunities for self-determination.

Thus, entity theorists tend to respond to difficulty by relinquishing agency, whereas incremental theorists tend to react by reasserting their agency. Do these different reactions make a difference for important life outcomes? In a longitudinal study by Blackwell et al. (2007), students’ math achievement was monitored during their transition from relatively simple elementary school mathematics to more challenging junior high school mathematics. Although entity and incremental theorists did not differ in their math achievement when they entered junior high, incremental theorists soon began to earn higher grades than entity theorists and this disparity continued to increase over the next 2 years. The discrepancy in performance was found to result in large part from incremental theorists’ belief in the efficacy of renewed effort and their choice to persist in the face of setbacks (see also Hong et al., 1999). Furthermore, several studies have now taught students an incremental theory and shown substantial increases in their motivation and grades or achievement test scores in the face of challenging curricula both in junior high school and in college (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell et al, 2007; Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003).

Further support for these findings comes from recent research by Baer, Grant, and Dweck (2005).5 They showed, first, that entity theorists experience greater symptoms of distress and depression in their daily lives and that this is tied to their greater tendency to engage in self-critical rumination about their fixed traits and abilities following negative events. Baer et al. also showed that the more distress entity theorists felt, the less they engaged in active problem solving. The opposite was true for incremental theorists. Overall, then, entity theorists’ belief in deterministic traits leads them to perceive fewer choices for action following failure, and they do indeed appear to suffer from this lack of choice and reduced agency.

They then go on to discuss the self-theories in relation to moral responsibility and social judgement building on their previous work that showed that people having entity views tend to be more retributive, while those with incremental views moire rehabilitative when judging others.

In short, even though entity theorists believe that traits constrain the extent to which people could have acted otherwise, they still believe that people should be held accountable for these constrained actions. Moreover, even though incremental theorists believe that people are more free to alter and develop their basic character (i.e., they have ultimate responsibility for their actions; see Kane, 1996), they are less severe in their moral judgments and punishment. Perhaps it is their understanding of the complex psychology that lies behind decisions to act that makes them more understanding of errant behavior. Further, because in their eyes wrongdoers can change, they tend to advocate rehabilitation instead of retribution. To our knowledge, discussion of the link between conceptions of free will and the type of punishment people should receive has been less prominent in philosophical discussions and may be a fruitful direction for further analysis (see, for example, Smart, 1961).
To summarize thus far, research on self-theories has yielded a picture of two psychological worlds. In one, traits are fixed and deterministic and there is little room for agency when those traits prove deficient. It is also a world of retributive justice. In the other world, traits are malleable, and so are the causes of behavior, leaving more room for choice and agency even after setbacks. In this world of enhanced self-determination, education and rehabilitation are emphasized so that wrongdoers might be guided to make better choices in the future.

They finally conclude with implications of their research for the free-will debate, which I think need to be mulled over.

The first point from our research is that personality is, in many ways, a highly dynamic system in which (changeable) beliefs can create a network of motivation and action (Cervone, 2004; Dweck & Legget, 1988; Molden & Dweck, 2006; cf.; Mischel & Shoda, 1995). For example, personal theories of intelligence create different goals, beliefs about effort, task choices, and reactions to setbacks. Although these beliefs can be instilled or activated without people’s awareness, they can also be self-chosen.
We do not deny the important effects of inborn temperament and early experience and we do not view the child as a blank slate on which anything can be written. Yet our view of personality is very different from a view of personality as just a set of deep-seated personal qualities that inevitably incline people toward particular choices and actions. Indeed, even some of the most ardent students of temperament’s role in personality grant that as children develop they cognitively construct their worlds, and that these cognitive constructions (such as self-theories) become an important part of their personality (Block, 1993; Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994).9 Thus our first point is that people’s belief systems are part of their personality, and we see in this more dynamic view of personality greater possibility for self-formation.
Our second point is that beliefs, such as self-theories, can alter what are often taken to be deep-seated traits. Such traits might include resilience, extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, risk taking, and nurturance (Block, 1993; McCrae & Costa, 1999).

To me, it is important to persist. Persist in convincing skeptics of the utility of free will. And I choose to!

Dweck, C., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A Word From Two Perspectives Psychological Inquiry, 6 (4), 267-285 DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0604_1
Carol, Dweck S; Daniel, Molden C (2008). Self-Theories: The Construction of Free Will Are We free, 44-65

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The five domains of human social experience:the SCARF model

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I recently came across David Rock’s Psychology Today blog named your brain at work. He has recently published a book by the same name and though I haven’t read the book yet, I was sufficiently engrossed by his ideas to read up on his  proposed SCARF model in the NueroLeadership journal (2008). David has himself written a series of five posts explaining each domain of his SCARF model, so you can refer them and read starlight from the horse’s mouth. David maintains that the five major goals of human brain are geared towards maintaining (increasing positive and reducing negative) these five dimensions- Certainty, Autonomy, Status, Relatedness and Fairness. Please note that I have reordered the SCARF factors as per the fit with my own 5 and 8 stage theoretic models.

I’ll now quote extensively from his NeuroLeadership article and try to integrate this within my fisrt 5 stages of development/evolution. :

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.

It is my contention that these domains or brain regions specific to these domains evolved because of the peculiar demands of each type of social situation and need. And I also wish to relate this to personality evolution especially the five factor OCEAN model. Perhaps some people who are more Open to experience are also having regions more sensitive to Fairness.

In a nutshell, in increasing evolutionary stages, the mapping is as follows: Certainty: Neurtoicsim; Autonomy: Conscientiousness;Status: Extraversion; Relatedness: Agreeableness; and Fairness: Openness to Experience.


The brain is a pattern-recognition machine that is constantly trying to predict the near future. For example, the motor network is useless without the sensory system. To pick up a cup of coffee, the sensory system, sensing the position of the fingers at each moment, interacts dynamically with the motor cortex to determine where to move your fingers next. Your fingers don’t draw on fresh data each time; the brain draws on the memory of what a cup is supposed to feel like in the hand, based on expectations drawn from previous experiences. If it feels different, perhaps slippery, you immediately pay attention (Hawkins, 2004). The brain likes to know the pattern occurring moment to moment, it craves certainty, so that prediction is possible. Without prediction, the brain must use dramatically more resources, involving the more energy-intensive prefrontal cortex, to process moment-to-moment experience.

Even a small amount of uncertainty generates an ‘error’ response in the orbital frontal cortex (OFC). This takes attention away from one’s goals, forcing attention to the error (Hedden, Garbrielli, 2006). If someone is not telling you the whole truth, or acting incongruously, the resulting uncertainty can fire up errors in the OFC. This is like having a flashing printer icon on your desktop when paper is jammed – the flashing cannot be ignored, and until it is resolved it is difficult to focus on other things. Larger uncertainties, like not knowing your boss’ expectations or if your job is secure, can be highly debilitating.

Much of Neuroticism is marked by anxiety and worry about unforeseens- a personality trait directly fine tuned to detecting and being sensitive to uncertainties in the environment. A nervous person is easily affected by uncertainties while a calm person hardly bothers about his predictive abilities and doesn’t get bothered no matter what the future may have in store.


Autonomy is the perception of exerting control over one’s environment; a sensation of having choices. Mieka (1985) showed that the degree of control organisms can exert over a stress factor determines whether or not the stressor alters the organism’s functioning. Inescapable or uncontrollable stress can be highly destructive, whereas the same stress interpreted as escapable is significantly less destructive. (Donny et al, 2006). The difference in some rodent studies was life and death (Dworkin et al, 1995).
An increase in the perception of autonomy feels rewarding. Several studies in the retirement industry find strong correlations between a sense of control and health outcomes (Rodin, 1986). People leave corporate life, often for far less income, because they desire greater autonomy. A reduction in autonomy, for example when being micro managed, can generate a strong threat response. When one senses a lack of control, the experience is of a lack of agency, or an inability to influence outcomes.

Dopamine is heavily involved in this system – the feeling of choice of control is a theme underlying conscientiousness trait too- whether one is conscientious and acts in a methodical manner assuming one has control over events or one cats irresponsibly and without feelings of agency.


In researcher Michael Marmot’s book The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity, Marmot makes the case that status is the most significant determinant of human longevity and health, even when controlling for education and income. This finding is supported by Sapolski’s work with primates (Sapolski, 2002). Sapolski found that in primate communities, status equals survival: higher status monkeys have lower baseline cortisol levels, live longer and are healthier.
Status is about relative importance, ‘pecking order’ and seniority. Humans hold a representation of status in relation to others when in conversations, and this affects mental processes in many ways (Zink, 2008). The brain thinks about status using similar circuits for processing numbers (Chaio, 2003). One’s sense of status goes up when one feels ‘better than’ another person. In this instance the primary reward circuitry is activated, in particular the striatum, which increases dopamine levels. One study showed that an increase in status was similar in strength to a financial windfall (Izuma et al, 2008). Winning a swimming race, a card game or an argument probably feels good because of the perception of increased status and the resulting reward circuitry being activated.
The perception of a potential or real reduction in status can generate a strong threat response. Eisenberger and colleagues showed that a reduction in status resulting from being left out of an activity lit up the same regions of the brain as physical pain (Eisenberger et al., 2003). While this study explores social rejection, it is closely connected to the experience of a drop in status.

The third stage and personality trait of extarversion is all about one-up-manship, hierarchy and kissing the boss’s arse. If you are good and sensitive to power games you are more extrovert (directed towards the world), else you are more inner directed or intravert.


Relatedness involves deciding whether others are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of a social group. Whether someone is friend, or foe. Relatedness is a driver of behavior in many types of teams, from sports teams to organizational silos: people naturally like to form ‘tribes’ where they experience a sense of belonging. The concept of being inside or outside the group is probably a by-product of living in small communities for millions of years, where strangers were likely to be trouble and should be avoided.

The decision that someone is friend or foe happens quickly and impacts brain functioning (Carter & Pelphrey, 2008). For example, information from people perceived as ‘like us’ is processed using similar circuits for thinking one’s own thoughts. When someone is perceived as a foe, different circuits are used (Mitchell, 2006). Also, when treating someone as a competitor, the capacity to empathise drops significantly (Singer et al, 2006).

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo talks about the need for safe human contact being a primary driver, like the need for food (Cacioppo, 2008). In the absence of safe social interactions the body generates a threat response, also known as feeling lonely. However, meeting someone unknown tends to generate an automatic threat response. This explains why one feels better at a party knowing three people rather than one. Alcohol helps to reduce this automatic social threat response, enabling strangers to communicate more easily, hence its use as a social lubricant the world over. In the absence of alcohol, getting from foe to friend can be helped by an oxytocin response, an experience of connecting with the other person. Oxytocin is a hormone produced naturally in the brain, and higher levels of this substance are associated with greater affiliative behavior (Domes et al, 2007). Studies have shown far greater collaboration when people are given a shot of oxytocin, through a nasal spray. (Kosfield, 2005). A handshake, swapping names and discussing something in common, be it just the weather, may increase feeling of closeness by causing the release of oxytocin (Zak et al, 2005). The concept of relatedness is closely linked to trust. One trusts those who appear to be in your group, who one has connected with, generating approach emotions. And when someone does something untrustworthy, the usual response is to withdraw. The greater that people trust one another, the stronger the collaboration and the more information that is shared.

The fourth stage/trait of Agreeableness is undoubtedly analogous to the relatedness social domain. Note the focus on in-group versus out-group dynamic at this stage and the importance of oxytocin at this stage.


Studies by Golnaz Tabibnia and Matthew Lieberman at UCLA showed that 50 cents generated more of a reward in the brain than $10.00, when it was 50 cents out of a dollar, and the $10 was out of $50 (Tabibnia & Lieberman, 2007). This study and a number of others illustrate that fair exchanges are intrinsically rewarding, independent of other factors. The need for fairness may be part of the explanation as to why people experience internal rewards for doing volunteer work to improve their community; it is a sense of decreasing the unfairness in the world.
Unfair exchanges generate a strong threat response (Tabibnia & Lieberman, 2007). This sometimes includes activation of the insular, a part of the brain involved in intense emotions such as disgust. Unfair situations may drive people to die to right perceived injustices, such as in political struggles. People who perceive others as unfair don’t feel empathy for their pain, and in some instances, will feel rewarded when unfair others are punished (Singer et al, 2006).

The last stage /trait of opennesses to experience/conformity/rebellion is directly mapped to sense of fairness and inequity aversion. Note also the visceral references to sense of taste by activation of disgust module in these cases of inequity aversions. The famous capachuin monkeys study also comes to mind where monkey refused cucumber when their colleagues got grape slices.

Overall, David Rock has provided an important framework that fits within the 5 stage theoretic model and has proven useful in industrial and organisational psychology. It would be good if more and more people started paying attention to the five stage theories (extendable to 8 stages), many things become clear and easy to remember when viewed from that particular lens.

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