Stress Management, Thoughts

SCARF Model in the times of Covid-19

Dear reader,

This is not one of my regular PCM-related blog posts, though more of those will come. Lately I have been thinking a lot about how this Covid pandemic has been pushing a lot of our SCARF “buttons”, in so many ways.

We all have specific triggers/stimuli that induce conscious and subconscious reactions in each of us and thus, play an important role in our well-being. It’s about these that I will write today and start this short series of blog post dedicated to the SCARF model.  

The SCARF Model

The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 by David Rock, a leading scholar of neuroleadership, in his paper “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others“.

SCARF stands for the five key “domains” that influence our behaviour in social situations, or the five stimuli that drive our response to minimise threats and/or maximise rewards[i]:

  1. Status – our relative importance to others/personal worth
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events/life
  4. Relatedness – how safe we feel with others
  5. Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be

The model is based on neuroscience research that indicates that these five social domains activate the same threat and reward responses in our brain that we rely on for physical survival. There is a distinct overlap between the biology of primary survival needs and our social needs. The same parts of the brain that are implicated in physical pain are implicated in social pain.

Thus, we are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and/or towards perceived rewards.

This is why, this “primitive” instinctual reaction, explains the sometimes strong emotional reactions that we can have to social situations. And it also explains why it’s difficult to control them most of the times.

Some examples:

When we hear people gossiping about us or we are left out of a group, we might perceive it as a threat to our status and relatedness. Research has shown that this response can stimulate the same region of the brain as physical pain. This is also why, in such situations, when people say “That hurts”, they actually mean it. And, believe it or not, it seems that Tylenol actually relieves social rejection[ii].

Furthermore, when we feel threatened (physically or socially), the release of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) affects our creativity and productivity. We literally can’t think straight, and this increases the feeling of being threatened. This happens because of decreased activity in prefrontal cortex activity, which has to do with higher cognitive-functions. Some of these functions are: complex problem solving, decision making, creativity, planning, etc. We tend to avoid situations that create a threat response. That happens because the organizing principle of the brain is to minimize threat and maximize reward.

On the flip side, when we feel rewarded (for instance, when we receive praise for our work) our brains release dopamine – the “happiness hormone.” And, of course, we want more! So we seek out ways to be rewarded again.

In the following blog posts I will take each of the five domains and analyse how the pandemic has “pushed their respective button” and what can we do about it.

Thank you for reading,

Signature Block Magda Tabac - SCARF Model in the times of Covid-19

[i] Rock, D. (2008) SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, Neuroleadership Journal, 1

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-IW7PQcMpE

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