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Thursday Complexity Post
October 24, 2013  


What Lights Up Our Brains as We Learn and Work   


When people say their hearts are broken and their feelings are hurt, their expressions may be more than metaphor. Scientists have discovered that social pain is just as real as physical pain, and in fact can be eased by painkillers.


Researchers have found that cruel words and social rejection registers in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the same brain region where physical pain is processed. For Matthew Lieberman, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, that's a strong indication that our need for social connection is ancient and hard-wired.


"The existence of social pain is a sign that evolution has treated social connection like a necessity, not a luxury," he says. In a Scientific American interview with Gareth Cook, Lieberman emphasizes that because of the way social pain and pleasure are "wired into our operating systems," the need to connect with others is urgent and compelling. Studies of mammals, from small rodents to humans, show that social connections shape us and that we suffer seriously when our social bonds are threatened or broken.


Brain research has direct implications for the way we structure organizations, institutions, and businesses, and the way we raise and educate children, Lieberman says.


He says fMRI studies show the brain has two distinct networks that support social and non social thinking. They operate like a neural seesaw, he explains, with one network quieting down as the other intensifies. When we finish with a non-social thought process, such as solving a math problem, the social thinking network is instantly reactivated as a default. That's the network operating when we're trying to understand the thoughts, feelings and goals of other people, and not just their actions.


Lieberman observes business leaders should realize that praise and an environment free from physical threats are powerful incentives just as money and material benefits are. "It is social comfort that allows us to make the most of our environment," he says: when we care, we work harder, complement each other's strengths and weaknesses more, and use our natural capacities better.


Brain science also offers new clues for education, Lieberman says. As he explains in a webinar on the Social Brain and Its Superpowers, experiments have shown that affirmation and rejection have profound consequences. When two groups of participants experienced either affirmation or rejection and then took IQ and GRE tests, those rejected had dramatically lower scores. Some 40 percent of kids say they have endured bullying-physical, verbal or cyber-he observes, and the impact can linger. "A kid who broke his leg on the playground wouldn't be expected to return to class and do math," he says, "but a kid who has been bullied is expected to be able to set that feeling aside." He thinks mindfulness training, and learning how to engage the brain's self control mechanisms, may build resilience to social pain.


Work at the Lieberman Lab shows that we learn best with the social parts of our brains, not with the parts activated to memorize, he says. The social brain network is in play when we take in new information, and some research has shown that our brains light up when we absorb information that we think will interest others. As he puts it, we like to be Information DJs . Lieberman wants more research on the use of learning in order to teach. "We ought to be doing much more peer learning," he told Scientific American. "My ideal situation would be a 14-year-old who has trouble in the classroom being assigned to teach a 12-year-old. The teacher then becomes a coach helping to teach the 12-year-old and the 14-year-old will reap the benefits of pro-social learning." Lieberman is the author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Access his webinar here and the Scientific American story here.



Remember PlexusCalls!  


Friday, October 25, 1-2 PM ET

Buildings Designed for Beauty, Life and Work 

Guests: Robert Peck, Thomas Lockwood and Sharon Benjamin  




Are humans hard wired to seek beauty in the places where they live and work? Does the design and aesthetic appeal of the workplace influence performance? Three leaders experienced in businesses and organizations who also understand design share their views.
Robert Peck is Southeast Region Director of Consulting for Gensler, a global architecture and design firm. His group helps clients with workplace strategy, occupancy management and sustainable design. He is a nationally recognized advocate for high quality public architecture, smart growth and sustainable design. For five years in the Clinton Administration and nearly three years in the Obama Administration, Bob was Commissioner of the U.S, General Services Administration's Public Building Service, eventually managing a budget of more than $9 billion and a workforce of 7,000. Thomas Lockwood is an international expert in design leadership and integrating design and innovation into business. He holds a rare PhD in design management, and is a passionate advocate for the value of design to the triple bottom line by improving economic social and environmental well being. Lockwood is the co-editor of four books: The Handbook of Design Management (2011), Design Thinking (2010), Corporate Creativity (2008) and Building Design Strategy (2007). Sharon Benjamin, PhD is principal of Alchemy, a Washington, D.C. based management consulting practice. She consults with multi-lateral, NGO and healthcare organizations. An adjunct at NYU, she teaches the leadership capstone course for MPA students. Her work supports leaders seeking to effect profound transformation -- within themselves and their organizations pioneering innovative methods such as Positive Deviance. Read their complete bios.

Nursing Network PlexusCalls

Wednesday, November 6, 1-2 PM ET

Complexity in Education, Leadership, Research, & Innovation 

Guests: Gail Mitchell and Nadine Cross   




This session will include a conversation between the two speakers about their involvement in five different projects that integrate complexity thinking with: education (pedagogy and eLearning), patient safety (Seeing the Forest), health coaching (developing and supporting 5 RNHCs in communities with persons living with diabetes and dementia), leadership and metaphor, and research-based drama on relationality and dementia. Each area will be started with a critical question and at least one understanding that emerges from the work about complexity thinking and its applicability. Guest speakers invite participants and listeners to participate in the conversation by sharing what ideas or what projects resonate with them in their work and how they might build on the ideas or take the ideas in a different direction.

Read their complete bios.
Audio from all PlexusCall series are available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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