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Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness

Adam Coutts


An excerpt from David Rock’s informative book “Your Brain At Work”:

There are five domains of social experience that your brain treats the same as survival issues: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. The model describes the interpersonal primary rewards or threats that are important to the brain. Some of life’s most intense emotional reactions involve a confluence of the elements of S.C.A.R.F..

People who experience events like this (say, being unfairly treated at work or being attacked falsely by a rival in the media) find that the pain from these events can take years to recover from. A study of social pain in 2008 found that social pain comes back when you think about it again, whereas physical pain doesn’t.

On the plus side, if you can find ways to increase several of the elements of SCARF at the same time, either in yourself or in others, you have a powerful tool not just for feeling great but for improving performance, too. Think about what it feels like when you interact with someone who makes you notice what’s good about yourself (raising your status), who is clear with his expectations of you (increasing certainty), who lets you make decisions (increasing autonomy), who connects with you on a human level (increasing relatedness), and who treats you fairly. You feel calmer, happier, more confident, more connected, and smarter. You are able to process richer streams of information about the world, which feels like the world has gotten bigger. Because this experience feels so good, you want to spend time with this person and help them any way you can.


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