Can neuroscience help us lead?

I recommend reading a recent article on how the brain can influence our relationships. This article resonated with me at a time when I have thought a lot about partisanship within the conservation community.

Common TernWith so many external challenges facing the conservation of nature, now is not a good time for tribal infighting. But there is hope. With knowledge of how our brain works, I’m confident we will spend more time discussing and solving problems together and less time blaming, criticizing, complaining and/or ignoring each other.

Enjoy the article and as always, take a few moments to let us know what you think, share this blog with your friends, and subscribe – you’ll receive an email when a new post appears.


About cognizantfox

Cognizantfox has served his country over twenty-five years doing the unselfish, noble work of conserving America's natural heritage.
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2 Responses to Can neuroscience help us lead?

  1. Noah says:

    Jimmy, in your Dec 9th post, you suggest that an increased understanding of the human brain will help people solve problems. I have little doubt that what you say is true. But I also believe the converse to be true, and I was wondering if you had a perspective on that. I mean, that as social (and other) scientists better understand the complexity of human thought and feelings (reference any number of TED talks on human behavior), I think the most informed/enlightened among us can (ab)use this information for manipulative purposes just as easily as we can for good. For example, I recently watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on how body language affects the power dynamics in a relationship, and even how body language can affect hormone levels and behavioral outcomes. It’s easy to imagine an informed person assembling a library of social science and using that information to manipulate and deceive. So when it comes to achieving conservation goals, Jimmy, how can we educate ourselves about the very important need to understand the human brain (which can lead to problem solving, as you say) and use this information in a positive, productive way rather than in a psychologically manipulative way? Or does it matter?

  2. Jimmy says:

    Noah – excellent question! Thank you for digesting what we share on this blog, posing your observations, and asking smart questions. Regarding neuroscience, you ask how might we use this knowledge to solve conservation challenges – problem-solving in a positive way without being manipulative or deceptive. And then you ask the obvious – does it really matter if, in the end, the result is positive?

    This I know: most conservation challenges are wrapped up in people’s values, attitudes and beliefs. Yours, mine and theirs. These challenges are only solved through relationships in combination with data. Data alone is not going to move the opposition, but with trust data can become useful.

    So we begin with a diagnosis. Where are people at? What are their values? What words will set them off? What common ground do we have? Then we have to diagnose ourselves. What are my values? What comments will make me want to roll my eyes? And over time with trust, we can find an approach to bring forth the unspeakable and begin working on a shared solution.

    Being able to listen and show respect to the very people that disagree or despise us is possible when we view their words and expressions as data. Data that lets us know where they are at. With the right frame of mind we can see comments against us not as personal attacks but expressions of how the person feels about the issue, decision, position, etc and not about us as a person. Leadership experts call it maintaining a diagnostic mindset.

    So, yes. I believe we can be better prepared and process this data correctly when we understand how our brain processes it. Rather than think about using neuroscience to deceive others I think about using it to prevent self-deception. For example, when our ears hear information that supports our position, the brain releases a feel-good chemical, dopamine. This chemical process has likely served an evolutionary purpose but is it the right response today for the conservation challenges before us?

    Knowledge of how our brains process information is powerful. Can we use that knowledge for good? Yes. Look to Nelson Mandela or any person who has led positive social change. Can that knowledge be used wrongfully? Of course. Is it OK to be sneaky or evasive if it’s for good? Yes, but we must be careful not to lose the trust of those involved. I discuss this topic in a bit more detail in the cognizantfox blog on December 1st.

    I hope this response is helpful Noah.

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