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Learning about the brain changes everything: David Rock at TEDxTokyo

Learning about the brain changes everything: David Rock at TEDxTokyo

Translator: Reiko Bovee
Reviewer: hila scherba It’s a delight to be here,
I think these events are very important. One thing I discovered is great ideas
don’t spread by themselves quite often; they need a little help. Case in point being:
the rest of the world would all have
wonderful Japanese toilets. If great ideas spread on their own. So I think these events
are very important. I spend my days doing something
that I’m very excited about. I help leaders and managers
in mostly large organizations, make better decisions, be more reflective,
stay cool under pressure, and most importantly, be better at influencing others
and collaborating with others. You can imagine I’m fairly busy;
there’s plenty of work to do there. But one of the things I discovered
about five years ago, which was very surprising to me, was I discovered that teaching people
about their brain had a profound effect on their ability
to understand themselves, and understand others. Teaching people about their brain
made them far more effective at whatever they wanted to achieve. I was very surprised by that, it wasn’t where I’d expected
I would end up. But for the last five years I’ve been really passionate about
decoding, deciphering, translating the incredible neuroscience coming out
and making it accessible to people. So those of you who are
change agents in the room, and I dare say that many of you here
are change agents, I want to let you in on a few secrets,
I want to give you possibly some tools that will help you
spread your ideas more effectively. What I found is learning about the brain
does change everything, and I’m going to give you four reasons
how this happens. I’ve been thinking about this
for some years now. There are four reasons why it’s so useful
to learn about the brain. First one is a thing
called a novelty effect. This is my daughter at 18 months. She had a wonderful experience
at that time in her life of being at a TED conference
all year round, because everything was kind of new
and innovative and exciting. When you’re young, new things
really impact your dopamine levels, and you get very excited, when we’re older
we don’t see new things very often. When you talk to leaders or teachers
or government people, educators, anyone, from a brain perspective,
you’re giving them a novel perspective, and that novelty effect
has quite an impact. It’s kind of what Businessweek focused
on when they wrote about this field; they said it was kind of
just the novelty effect, actually, it’s much more,
but the novelty effect is really useful, it does get people’s attention, and as I’ll mention,
attention does change the brain. So the novelty effect is powerful, but it is so much more
than just the novelty effect. I’ll give you an example if I tell you
that the circuitry or network in the brain involved in high level strategic thinking,
planning, decision making, all of that; that network is very different
to the network for understanding yourself
and other people. If I tell you that those networks
are inversely correlated, so when one is active,
the other is deactive, you kind of see why people
who spend their lives in their intellect often need a bit of work
on the other side, because one circuit kind of loses
its connections there. When I say that to you,
it’s a new way of thinking about why leaders need development,
and it opens up new connections. So talking about the brain
does give you a novelty effect, but it’s something much more than that. The second reason I find
the brain is very effective as a way of creating change, is that when you try to get
people to see something, basically, the word “see” is the key. The tangible is so much easier to see, the tangible is something
you can access in your mind. If I say, “See an elephant,”
you can see an elephant, if I say, “See cognitive dissonance,”
you go, “What?” But if I say, “See a region of the brain, taking all the oxygen and glucose
from all these other regions, and your prefrontal cortex suddenly
has very little resources to do much,” you can see that, right? So then you can spot that coming. So the tangible is easier to see,
it’s a well understood fact, and so if you can speak in terms
of physical aspects of biology, you get more buy-in because people
get what you’re saying, more easily. The third reason is an important one. We get to improve our theories,
and theories create the world. It says, “Where Earl gets his ideas,” an executive having a shower
to come up with ideas. Has anyone noticed that you had
these great insights in the shower? If you noticed, you have them
maybe when you’re swimming, doing laps. Well, it’s not the water, but many people
make this false correlation, and many other false correlations, because we don’t have the science
to understand the theories. It turns out great ideas actually come – we’ve only just learned this
in the last couple of years – great ideas come
when you’re able to notice subtle signals, that things like happiness improve that,
and other things improve that, but it’s the able to see subtle signals that actually facilitates great ideas
from our brain perspective. So we get to improve our theories by getting in
and studying the brain directly. I’m going to give you some examples
of some of the surprises that are coming out
of the enormous body of neuroscience. There are about 50,000
practicing neuroscientists right now, it’s an enormous field. One of the big surprises is
how limited our attention is, and it comes back to how small
and fragile the prefrontal cortex is. Some of you probably noticing that now – you’re thinking about lunch
and other things, and finding it hard to focus, some of you distracted try to work out
what my accent is, it’s half American, half Australian,
just to confuse everyone. But our attention is very limited,
and it’s biological, and really, we do a very small amount
of quality thinking per day and we need to treat that as an asset. There’s a huge amount
of research in there, quite surprising how limited it is. The second big surprise is
how wrong we get emotions, there are some cultural things here,
but it seems to be fairly universal. When people are asked, “What will happen
if they speak about emotions?” people say that it will make
those emotions worse, Would you agree with that? So what we do is we don’t tend
to speak about emotions; we tend to try to suppress them,
try to bottle them up, Actually it’s a very good body
of research saying that if you’ve got some emotional arousals, speaking about those emotions
in simple terms, reduces them significantly. But even after people
have seen those studies, it takes some practice to experience it,
for people to actually try it, because we’ve been wired to think
we shouldn’t speak about emotions, actually speaking about them
reduces the effects of them. So what do we do instead? If we’re not speaking about them,
what do we do? We suppress and we think
suppression is a great idea. This is where the neuroscience comes in, If you try to suppress an emotion, your limbic system stays at the same level
of arousal or gets worse, and that level of arousal takes away
resources from your cognitive functions. So, suppressing emotions
makes you basically less smart, it also, funny enough,
kills your memory, if you try to suppress a feeling you want to remember
what someone else is telling you which explains an enormous amount
of conflicts in life, at home and everywhere. The third thing is,
when you suppress emotions, other people’s blood pressure goes up. It actually creates a threat response
in other people, which is quite surprising. We get these things wrong, and as a result we build these theories
and models and frameworks that actually work against the way
our biology really functions. And just like we thought the Earth
was flat once, and now we know it’s not, the science and technology can catch up,
and make quite a change in our society. This is a final thing on emotions; this is a study, a summary of a study
of about 500 people. They are able to categorize people
into whether they suppressed emotions or reappraised emotions,
which is a fantastic strategy. The reappraisal is difficult;
it requires alot of cognitive resources. You have to look at the situation and look at it
from a whole other perspective, something that happens
in a TED conference. Reappraisal, for example, might be
you’re having an argument with someone, and you actually manage to see
the situation from their perspective. You know how that is? If you’re upset,
it just feels physically impossible. We divided people into two groups: those who suppressed more,
those who reappraised more. The people who suppressed more
were dramatically below the average on all these factors, people who reappraised more
were above. Here is one of the really
interesting kickers, most of the emotional situations
we all deal with everyday are internal, it made out of fears, anxieties, concerns; I thought about the fact,
“Do you have my right or wrong slides?” at least 30 times in the last 24 hours,
and it takes up space. These internal kind of threats; the more you know about your brain,
the more you can say to yourself – “Oh, that’s just my brain
doing something crazy,” and you become someone who actually
reappraises much more about yourself. I was in Chicago last week, talking to
someone from a large organization, and she was kind of laughing at herself, and I caught her laughing
at her own experience, and she apologized, and I said, “Oh, no no, actually that’s wonderful.” Some of the healthiest people are people who are able
to observe and laugh at themselves. By the way, humor is one of the cheapest
and most wonderful forms of reappraisal; it takes less resources. We get emotions wrong;
we don’t speak about them; we try to suppress,
thinking that is the best thing to do, when it comes to working
with other people, actually, it has some
surprising consequences. The third set of surprises, is probably
one of the most significant, and it sort of links to some of the things
that Barry Schwartz was saying earlier, very inspiring session. We’ve completely misunderstood
how important the social world is, you know, that list of job descriptions, we don’t see how social the brain is; huge amounts of the brain
are dedicated to social interactions because we don’t survive
without the social world for the first 10 to 12 years of our lives. So just like a wolf has
incredible sense of smell, we have incredible sense of exactly
what’s going on in the social world. It’s quite surprising. What we’re discovering
about social world is that it’s as important as the physical world
from the brain’s perspective. So in the brain if you sense
there’s a threat to your life, you’ll react very intensely, but also if you sense a threat to,
let’s say, your status, which is your perception
in terms of other people you’ll also react
as if your life is threatened, which is why
when someone says to you, “Can I give you some feedback?”
we all go, “Oh, my gosh!” and the stomach starts,
you know how uncomfortable that is. It explains the terrible challenges
of performance reviews in organizations. The brain is intensely social, and we only can find that out by doing
studies and putting studies together, we see that the same brain network
for feeling physical pain, is used for feeling social pain, here’s a kind of quirky,
unexpected outcome of that – if you’re feeling ostracized
and people attacking you; take a tylenol. Tylenol actually reduces social pain;
it’s been studied in controlled studies. The social pain – and these are
the five elements of social pain that I’ve been able to weave together – social pain or social pleasures
are actually the brain’s own goals, when we set goals for people,
like a promotion, what we do is we assimilate these
into the brain’s own goals. The brain has goals, basically, to feel good, to move towards reward,
which is a dopamine release, to stay away from threat,
which is a cortisol release, etc. The brain wants to feel
like we’re always getting better, to feel like we understand
what’s going on, to be certain, to feel like we have the choices
to be autonomous, to feel connected safely with others,
and to feel like things are fair. What happens in organizations is many managers accidentally
do all the wrong things, they tell people what they
should be doing differently, they don’t provide clear expectations,
they don’t let people make choices, they don’t trust people or open up
and they treat people unfairly, you get this kind of jackpot of threats
that literally makes people less smart. But you can use these as motivators, there’s a study showing
that just saying “good job” to someone was activating the same reward circuitry
at the same level as a financial reward. That just a sense of fairness, and an increasing fairness
is also activating a deep social reward which is why putting
social justice programs in organizations kind of makes people feel rewarded. So understanding the brain’s own drivers, I think is an extremely
important objective, if we’re going to improve
our society as a whole. This is a frame that summarizes
hundreds and hundreds of papers into something that you can kind of see
it’s a SCARF, you can see it, or for the Americans it’s a scarf, but you can see it,
so you can remember it easily, and then you can notice – “Look at that, I just threatened
that person’s status, that’s why they’re talking all crazy,
and I should maybe bring this down a bit.” So these are some of the surprises
about the brain, that our attention is very limited,
we get wrong how emotions work, and we’ve really misunderstood
the social world and how important it is. The final one is that attention itself
creates change in the brain, is that when you focus your attention
on any particular aspect of experience, you either embed or creates circuits. This has a lot of implications
if you’re trying to create change, you really want to think about
where your are focusing attention, on what, the past or the future,
where you are going. So it requires us to be more reflective, to actually notice
what we’re doing with our attention. There’s an enormous amount more; it’s quite funny talking about the most
complex thing in the known universe in 12 minutes, I think I’m almost at 13. My fourth reason, I think is
the most profound and most important – the fourth reason why
teaching about the brain, or learning about the brain in organizations, in schools,
even in relationships – the fourth reason it’s so helpful
is quite a deep one. When you understand your brain a bit more, you are able to understand your experience
and actually have more choices, you’re able to catch certain things
before they unfold; there’s a whole interesting
timing about that, Ultimately what it does is it actually
creates a tide of mindfulness, you’re becoming
an observer of your behavior, just like this woman in Chicago, you’re becoming someone
who can observe and stand aside, that makes you more reflective, it also surprise me that makes people
more empathic and more caring. I had dinner last week
with one of the founders of the mindfulness movement,
very important figure, Daniel Siegel, and he was sitting
with the Dalai Lama recently, he told me this story,
it’s a third hand story, but it really hit me. The Dali Lama was saying, we’ve kind of failed in religion to create a really compassionate, empathic life
for many many people, and he said, “I hope that science can go a little bit
further into the Ivory towers perhaps to create greater mindfulness,
therefore greater empathy.” I want to leave you with a challenge
from Theodore Zeldin, a philosopher, “When will we make the same breakthroughs
in the way that we relate to each other, as we have made with technology?” I love these technology breakthroughs;
this is awesome, I absolutely love it, and I want to spend hours
talking about it. But we’ve hardly made any improvements in how we relate to each other
in 30, 50, 100 years. and I think it’s time
to put some focus on that, and really make a difference there. Thank you very much. (Applause)

17 comments on “Learning about the brain changes everything: David Rock at TEDxTokyo

  1. I don't understand how to read the graph at 8:07. More suppressors were recorded and did not have positive relationships? Negative numbers on the suppressors side?

  2. RE: Brain at work; The methodology you espouse of manipulating emotion to stimulate intellect, is self justifying & deceptive. What happen after we've all trained one another to be nothing more than exploiters? Clearly 1 anticipated outcome is this creates a raging sea of self seeking behavour, where little dinghies looking for a safe harbour are forever at the mercy of an exploitative& abusive authority. Your thought processes are flawed. You lose

  3. His end statement about developing breakthroughs to ourselves is due to the people that have the insight don't want people that don't have it to gain the understanding. Instead they really want them to be reliant on technology to do something that they could do themselves and they can monitor all that technology these days, bring it in as a form of controlling them

  4. @weewilly2007 Why are you assuming we will use these powers for evil?  What if we use them to rewire ourselves to be more compassionate and generous?  So far our history with technology has actually been mostly positive, there's no reason to think this will be any different.

  5. " – When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way that we relate to each other as we´ve made in technology?" What a deep question. When we´ve broken through all sorts of barriers perhaps.

  6. 1:18 “Those of you who are change agents in the room…”

    “Change agents”—this rhetoric is how I know David lives for the corporate pocket. Just another irreverent culture manipulator like Sinek.

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