Dopamine – knowing less and learning more

From moment to moment during the day our brain wave patterns fluctuates between BETA, Alpha and Theta wave bands without ones conscious control.  Each of these dominant states has associated neurotransmitters/neurochemicals which is experienced as bodily sensations and emotions.  Thus our brain chemistry and our brain waves go together.

Dopamine is one of these neurotransmitters synthesized by a very small group of neurons in the brain stem and is the neurotransmitter linked to novelty seeking, desire and reward.  EEGs show a spike in brain activity (13 HZ- 16HZ) or (gamma – low beta) which is accompanied by the release of dopamine (in the frontal lobes) when there is a though process of “curiosity” taking place.    However, since the brain is efficient and takes short cuts on what it already knows as soon as the new solution, insight or experience  becomes  familiar it is “categorized” by the brain as “business as usual” with a resulting smaller electro – chemical  reaction.  So the feel good factor diminishes as you become used to the experience, approach, solution or situation.  

So to ensure that the brain keeps finding novel solutions and to be vigilant regarding “categorization” novel experiences need to be cultivated.  This can be done by confronting the perceptual system with people, places and things it has not seen before.  However to experience it as a “feel good encounter” where dopamine production is stimulated the mind must be calmed and relaxed.  The moment one experiences a hyper focused state with accompanying feelings of agitation and irritation, the dopamine has been converted into adrenalin and this process cannot be reversed.  The innovative thought will be turned in to  narrow “black and white” thinking.

To conclude to try and motivate oneself through stress (e.g. adrenaline), one really need to think again.  This is like shooting yourself in the foot while trying to run.  The brain needs the slow electrical frequencies and the chemicals associated with relaxation to perform really high-level intellectual functions like finding innovative solutions.  It’s all about relaxation by knowing less and learning more – curiosity, mystery, experimentation, surprise, amazement, wonder, reflection contemplation, information, knowledge, insight, inspiration, discovery, puzzles, solutions, mental challenge and intellectual mastery, stimulate the brain to produce dopamine, a  wonder-full antidepressant.


Berns, G., (2010). Iconoclast.  Boston. Harvard Business School Publishing.

Gellatly, A., & Zarate, O., (2003). Introducing Mind and Brain. Royston. Icon Books.

Ratey, J., (2001). A user’s guide to the Brain. New York. Pantheon Books.

Rock, D., (2009) . Your Brain at Work. New York. Harper Collins Publishers.

Followers Mirror Their Leaders—Literally

A key part of being an authentic leader is displaying relational transparency  (Walumbwa, et al., 2008)  which refers to the degree  that the leader    reinforces    a level of    openness with others that provides them with an opportunity to be forthcoming with   ideas, challenges and opinions.   Thus they appropriately self disclose.   Typically followers do or mirror what the leader does and this has spin offs across the organization.

Mirror neurons may represent the neurophysiological correlate of empathy and humans can imitate or extrapolate the intentions and emotions of others possibly via this system. (Tabibnia, 2011)

By understanding the neurobiology of this imitation process can provide key leverages points for culture tuning because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2008).  The effects of activating neural circuitry in followers’ brains can be very powerful.  

On the positive side mirror neurons result in followers detecting the leader’s  smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return.

On the negative side a boss who is self-controlled and humorless will engage those mirror neurons in his team members, leading to a  organizational culture that is self-controlled and serious and on the extreme end even a bullying atmosphere and culture is created that permeates the organization. (Bond, 2004)

According to Hughes (2005) authentic leaders who appropriately self-disclosed with followers were establishing relational transparency and this enhanced motivation. So to be aware of your mood as leader and that it is basically a broad casting station for the entire organization is vital. 

Leaders who can self regulate in favour of a good mood,  will help people take in information effectively and respond creatively (Goldin et al, 2008). Thus there is a strong business case for laughter and more smiling in the workplace.


Bond, M. H. (2004). Culture and aggression: From context to coercion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(1), 62-78.

Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R., (2008). Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. September 2008.

Goldin, P.R., McRae, K., Ramel, W.,Gross, J.J., (2008). The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion  BIOL Psychiatry. 63:577-586

Hughes, L. W. (2005). Developing transparent relationships through humor in the authentic leader-follower relationship. In J. W. Gardner, B. J. Avolio & F. Walumbwa (Eds.), Authentic leadership theory and practice:     Origins, effects and development; monographs in leadership and management (Vol. 3, pp. 43-81). San  Diego, CA: Elsevier.

Tabibnia, G. (2011, Nov 3). Class lecture given for Post-Graduate Certificate in the Neuroscience of Leadership – on Mirror Neurons and Empathy - March 2011 Intake.

Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89-126. 

Philosophy of the social brain at work

"The fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd;

indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."
~Bertrand Russel

"To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity."
~Oscar Wilde

Theory of the mind refers to the distinction between what one thinks, intends or feels versus what others think, intend or feel (Premack & Woodruff, 1978).  It implies that others are governed by the same mental states as we are thus we look at our mindsets when trying to understand others’ mindsets.  According to Mitchell (2009) cited in Radecki, 2011 the neurobiological activation of the medial prefrontal cortex overlaps when we think about ourselves or when we think about others.  It can be argued that theory of mind is essential to interpersonal communication and social relationships but there is also the risk of a cognitive bias (or error) called the false consensus effect.  False consensus is a cognitive bias which implies that people overstate the degree to which they think other’s have the same opinions than they do or assuming that others know exactly what you mean.  (Ross et al). 

The application of this at work is big:  When explaining a Business Strategy, A new Project design, or Business case for a new venture, Unethical Behavior (when a powerful leader  actually believes his or her unethical behavior is right) leading to tunnel vision where the leader and the entire company can become blinded to other behavioral options.

Thus, leaders need to be aware of this false consensus and should robustly solicit inputs from others; to ensure the cognitive errors/false consensus is reduced. Given that leaders are often under tough deadlines to churn out profits and thus under high cognitive load they default to their own “know how” or false consensus (Radecki, 2011).  This can have negative consequences for both business results and team effectiveness. 

To conclude leaders need to be vigilant and self aware of their own cognitive bias – if they are not self aware and test their self- awareness with others they will limit their understanding of others to the same degree.  Thus be conscious of people’s differences and be cautious to “generalize”, “group think”, “consensus decide” or “tunnel vision”.


Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind.

Radecki, D., (2011, Nov 17). Class lecture given for Post-Graduate Certificate in the Neuroscience of Leadership – on philosophy of the social brain - March 2011 Intake.

Ross, L., 1977. The" False Consensus Effect": An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes.. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


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