The Science behind Executive Coaching Social Cognitive

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1 OUR SOCIAL BRAIN, In Friday s Footprint author Leslie Brothers first broke the idea that the brain was a social. interaction machine Brothers also saw the amygdala as our social centre not emotional center the. idea being that social issues are what we feel strongest about. According to Matt Lieberman from UCLA one of the key players in SCN Three out of four activities. whirring in the background when the brain is at rest involve mulling over our relationships with. others Our brain has been formed over time by its environment and our environment is. predominantly a social one So the environment that we live in is more social than physical. In recent years the phrase theory of mind has more commonly been used to refer to a specific. cognitive capacity the ability to understand that others have beliefs desires and intentions that are. different from one s own Theory of mind is a term to describe how we understand other people s. intentions We literally need to know someone else has a mind that may be different to ours in. order to understand other people,This theory of mind covers two separate concepts. 1 Gaining the understanding that others also have minds with different and separate beliefs. desires mental states and intentions and, 2 Being able to form operational hypotheses theories or mental models with a degree of. accuracy as to what those beliefs desires mental states and intentions are. A theory of mind appears to be a usually innate potential ability in humans and some argue in. certain other species but one requiring social and other experience over many years to bring. successfully to adult fruition It is probably a continuum in the sense that different people may. develop more or less effective theories of mind varying from very complete and accurate ones. through to minimally functional It is often implied or assumed but not stated explicitly that this. does not merely signify conceptual understanding that other people have minds and think but. also some kind of understanding and working model that these thoughts and states and emotions. are real and genuine for these people and not just ungrounded names for parroted concepts. Empathy is a related concept meaning experientially recognizing and understanding the states of. mind including beliefs desires and particularly emotions of others without injecting your own often. characterized as the ability to put oneself into another s shoes. Studies of young children show that they develop a theory of mind between the ages of 4 and 6. years old Before they have this children have difficulty playing hide and seek effectively they don t. realize that others can t see them when their own eyes are closed but they are in full view. Many of Shakespeare s plays involved characters misunderstanding others intentions In a play like. King Lear we need to hold in our own mind as the audience the various intentions of the players. and the tragedy that unfolds emanates from the misreading of these intentions In everyday life big. brains are needed to find our way through the complex social world With each person we meet we. need to know if they are a friend or foe threat or resource trustworthy or not It is believed that. much of the high level capacity of our brains like working memory evolved to manage the. complexities of our social lives In the animal kingdom it is being found that the bigger the brain. the bigger the social group Based on brain size humans should live in groups of about 150 which is. the size of a typical English village or a hunter gatherer group and thus how we have lived. throughout history,Copyright 2013 ProVeritas Group Page 2 of 9. The brain has strong memory circuits for relationships between people We remember people more. easily than things and things more easily than concepts Think of the number of people you could. summon to mind if you had to for an hour and how well you could describe your relationship to. them and to others Our memories of our interconnections are vast For example the way that. memory experts remember several decks of playing cards in random order is by creating a story of. how characters relate to each other, For coaching this theory builds on earlier chapters where an individual s beliefs values and culture.
create the filters through which they see the world Social neuroscience takes this further to say. that this concept is also true for how we read empathise and socialise with others Therefore it is. useful for clients to not only increase their self awareness of their own beliefs and values but also. how they interpret this for others in their environment This concept overlaps with Daniel. Goleman s work in the area of social intelligence In coaching a client s mental map will determine. how they navigate their social landscape whether that be in an organisational or personal context. Why do we feel good when we see a famous person in a coffee shop Why do we queue for hours. to shake hands with someone we have seen on TV The answer is it increases our status Status is. of great importance to the brain, Status and survival are closely linked Right now a monkey in the wild just died because it s status. was reduced In the human world our status determines our salary our health even perhaps our. length of life Research on workers in Sweden showed that high status individuals who smoked. drank and didn t exercise were healthier and lived longer than low status healthy fit workers. The brain thinks about status using similar circuits to how we think about numbers An experiment. showed how in both cases we were more quickly able to determine differences in status when the. difference was large than small as we do with numbers. One of the things the brain is constantly doing is checking on our status who we are in relation to. the people around us Reduced status to the brain feels like it could come with terrible. consequences The response to reduced status or fear of it is highly visceral a flood of cortisol that. inhibits clear processing This may partly explain the lengths people go to to avoid others being. wrong in an argument To be wrong means we reduce our status and the other person increases. An increase in status makes us feel great We get a burst of positive chemistry Negatively. impacting a person s status can activate the same part of the brain activated when we experience. physical pain It also influences the presence of neurotransmitters like adrenaline and dopamine. and increases the stress hormone cortisol to a level that can have measurable impact on. performance and even increase the risk of ill health. The brain responds to a threat of lower status with the same circuits as a threat to life A study by. Matthew Lieberman showed how experiencing social rejection shows up in the same part of the. brain as we feel physical pain Lieberman et al 2003. Referring back to Richard Boyatzis work in Systems Theory on the three types of stress too much to. do being seen by others being observed and dealing with ambiguity we see how social rejection. Copyright 2013 ProVeritas Group Page 3 of 9, contributes to stress Research on what creates stress involves testing people s cortisol levels The. research is showing that situations with a social component where our status may be reduced are. significantly more stressful than without When stress has a social component for example being. evaluated by others cortisol levels stays high 50 longer taking an hour or more to return to. In studies of workers at various levels just speaking to a higher status person at works makes your. blood pressure go up, Consider what happens when someone offers us feedback It s very common to perceive this as a. threat to our status that we may not look good in the eyes of someone important To some people. this literally could be a life threatening situation as they fear it might involve losing a job and going. hungry yet to some degree we all act as if it is The limbic system goes into overdrive the brain. pumps out cortisol resulting in reduced functioning of the prefrontal cortex The amygdala starts to. make connections between things it would not normally connect. In coaching we will often provide feedback to clients in various ways It is important that the coach. handles feedback appropriately to ensure that the feedback is received constructively The coach s. relationship empathy and intuition with the client are all important This is also why priming a. client for what you are about to say asking permission to go down a certain path and using. appropriate language are important techniques, The concept of status can also be used in coaching to bring an unconscious process of assigning. status or categorisation to the conscious level with clients As coaching conversations often deal. with the client s relationships it may be useful for the client to understand the status or role that. they have assigned to those individuals The status that they assign to others will impact the way. they deal with individuals whether consciously or not Bringing this into the conscious gives the. client the ability reappraise if relevant and or to act more purposefully. 3 THREAT AND COGNITION, The amygdala is an almond shaped part found in an older part of the brain that we share with most.
animals Although the amygdala is commonly thought of as the emotional center of the brain. when stimulated it does not generate happy emotions only anxiety and fear. The amygdala scans everyone we come into contact with to identify if they are a potential threat. Perhaps after having spent millions of years in small groups of people we know now that we live in. large groups we have the response we would have anytime we met a stranger don t trust them In. a world of scant resources where people lived to an average of 20 this was a good strategy for. genetic survival Now this function may be unnecessary and in some ways a burden especially in an. organization trying to create a common culture and sense of shared vision. When we eye up a potential threat the amygdala becomes aroused In its aroused state the. amygdala does several things that are important to understand. It generalizes more It make links where perhaps there may not be. It reduces the metabolism of the prefrontal cortex It takes resources away and uses the. energy that would be needed for thinking making decisions. It errs on the side of pessimism A study in 2005 showed that ambiguity on its own was. lighting up the amygdala,Copyright 2013 ProVeritas Group Page 4 of 9. It does not distinguish between psychological and physical threats We have a similar. biological response to someone threatening to insult us in public as someone threatening to. hit us with a cane As shown in a study by Matt Lieberman the same part of the brain lights. up for perceived insults as for actual physical pain Lieberman et al 2003. Once the amygdala starts to take over it gets harder to think rationally Think of having a mild. argument with someone then going back to your desk Is it easy to get back to projects or do you. somehow keep mulling over the argument like an echo reverberating in your mind. The cortisol released when we perceive a threat has a significant impact on many of our systems. including reducing our ability to fight infection increasing stress levels and increasing the fright. Another interesting piece of research is how easily the brain is activated by anxiety versus. pleasurable emotions Research by the positive psychology field including Martin Seligman and. Barbara Fredrickson into the speed and depth of negative affect versus positive affect is showing. that negative affect comes on faster is more intense lasts longer and is triggered more easily. Research has shown that long term stress inhibits cognitive functioning It also inhibits learning. Increased levels of cortisol have also been shown to drive long term damage to the hypocampus the. part of the brain central to memory and learning This can be seen for example with people with. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Fear concern about status and anxiety can impair the functioning of working memory reducing our. capacity to store and process ideas Stress or anxiety creates an alert signal that keeps demanding. our attention making it hard to hold other ideas in mind for a long time The average time people. can hold an idea in mind in good conditions is around ten seconds This goes also for holding an idea. not in mind eg trying to not think about something. Matthew Lieberman and Kevin Ochsner found that when we name an emotion we activate the. prefrontal cortex which has the effect of dampening down the amygdala This explains the. experience of how talking about how you feel seems to help clear the mind Ochsner and. Lieberman 2001, Tell your troubles to a Guatemalan worry doll place it beneath your pillow and according to legend. those worries will be gone by morning That s just one example of the culture spanning idea that. putting problems into words can blunt the emotional impact of those problems Centuries of. thinkers from Spinoza to William James to every psychologist who practices talk therapy have. recognized this peculiar power of language according to UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman. In a study published in Science in 2003 Lieberman and his colleagues used functional magnetic. resonance imaging fMRI to scan the brains of participants as they played a computer game called. cyberball In cyberball participants think that they re playing an onscreen version of catch with. The Science behind Executive Coaching Social Cognitive Neuroscience White Paper by Dr Ruby Campbell September 2012 I am always ready to learn but I do not always like being taught Sir Winston Churchill A good leader talks little but when the work is done the aim fulfilled all others will say ZWe did this ourselves Lao Tse

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