Interesting developments at the intersection of neuroscience and leadership are pointing to evidence that much of what drives our behaviour is governed by primary instincts to minimise threats and maximise rewards, using the same brain networks that govern our quest to satisfy basic survival needs. In other words, considering the satisfaction of social needs in the same way we analyse the quest to satisfy basic survival needs can deliver important insights into the drivers of social behaviour in personal and business settings. The SCARF model involves five domains of human social experience:

  • Status: relative importance to others
  • Certainty: being able to predict the future
  • Autonomy: a sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: a sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: a perception of fair exchanges between people

The five facets of the SCARF framework activate the ‘primary reward’ or ‘primary threat’ circuitry (and associated networks) of the brain. For example, a perceived threat to one’s status activates similar brain networks as a threat to one’s life. In the same way, a perceived increase in fairness activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward.  These insights from neuroscience provide a structured way of thinking about how to maximise the benefits of collaborating and interacting with others by considering how well their primary social instincts are being satisfied and, in turn, increasing the likelihood of securing desirable outcomes from the collaboration.