From ME to WE: How the brain differentiates self from others

There is often a lot of talk about the “need” for collaboration in the workplace. Yet it can sometimes appear surprisingly elusive to achieve.

Janine Garner knows all about collaborative leadership. As the founder and CEO of the LBD, (Little Black Dress Group) her vision is to promote open and transparent corporate relationships for continued change and success.

Having got to know Janine over the last six months, she embodies everything she stands for and her new book “From Me to We” due to be published later this year explores how collaboration is such an effective multiplier for success in all aspects of our lives and work.

The brain science tells us we are hardwired to connect.
What hasn’t been appreciated until fairly recently is just how strong that hardwiring actually is.

A neuroimaging study in 2012 examined how the brain reacts to threat (such as receiving an electrical shock). As expected the brain’s system associated with the threat response: the insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus lights up. Asking a study participant to observe a stranger receiving the shock, elicited no response in the observer’s brain. But when they were asked to observe a friend who was about to receive a shock, their brain regions activity was almost identical as when it was their own body being threatened.

What does this tell us?

That those we are close to, we perceive as ourselves. We effectively become “synced”.

Coan, one of the researcher’s explains, “A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources because threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, those that we trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded and we gain. Your goal becomes my goal. It’s a part of our survivability.”

For workplace collaboration to succeed, it boils down to the relationships we make. Human social cognition is the true driver for human to human connection.
If we work with people we feel that we “know” and like, then the magic of collaborative excellence can flourish.

 

Ref: Beckes. L, Coan, J.A. and Hassselmo. K. (2012) Familiarity promotes the blurring of self and other in the neural representation of threat Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2013) 8 (6): 670-677. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss046 First published online: May 3, 2012

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