How we classify things and people. What it means for performance.
In the integrative model of brain function, it is believed that all things are quickly classified into two groups. Those that represent a threat, and those that represent a reward. It is believed that the brain does this as a survival mechanism so it can quickly ascertain the level of danger or opportunity that arises out of any given situation. After this initial appraisal, everything is then sub-categorised into one of those two ‘macro’ categories.
This seems to make some sort of sense. After all, during our evolution, our chances of survival would be greatly improved if we could quickly drop things into either of these categories. Threats would be predators and impending storms, while rewards would be food, shelter and finding a mate.
This has also been called the toward/away response or the approach/avoid response.
New Age Threats and Rewards
But how does this work in the 21st Century? Well, it turns out that we still do this ‘macro’ categorisation. While our primal threats are still out there – walking into a dangerous situation for example – many threats are ‘new-age’ threats. Losing our jobs, missing a bonus. The same is true of rewards – they have probably become more material in the ‘new age’, as most of us don’t have to fend for our own food and survival. We all know things that we want to approach and those that we want to avoid.
It also seems that we categorise people the same way. We see them as either a threat (enemy) or reward (friend).
Threat, Reward and Performance
These two categories have dramatically different effects on our performance. Under threat conditions, we lose the ability
to think creatively, we can’t regulate our emotions, our focus narrows and we resort to habitual ways of thinking. However, under reward conditions we are able to connect to people, think outside the box, prioritise effectively and solve problems. In short, under threat we cannot perform at our cognitive best, while under reward we do.
So which are you for the people that you need to interact with on a daily basis? Are you a reward or a threat? Are you allowing them to do their best, or are you stifling their ability to achieve what they want to?
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