Monday, June 5, 2017

Fairness and status

I went to the hospital today for my annual checkup - and because I knew I'd be sitting around for hours I took my summer read, The Brain at Work.  During the course of the day I managed to read almost to the end of the book, and the sections that really struck me were those on fairness and status.

Fairness is something that I feel is very deeply rooted in me, and I was interested to read that this is true of most people.  David Rock writes that fairness is a big driver of behaviour, often more important than money, and that when you perceive you are being treated unfairly this can often lead into an intense downward spiral.  Fairness is connected with safety, and is linked to relatedness - when we feel that someone is being fair you tend to trust that person.  At the same time your brain releases dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, making you open to new ideas and more willing to connect with others.  Rock suggests that workplaces that allow employees to experience fairness and also those where people report intrinsic motivation - and people perform better in these cultures.

Status is another thing I've been thinking about recently, following conversations with colleagues.  One person who is very highly qualified was lamenting the "flat" pay scale where all the time and effort she put into advanced degrees is not recognized.  In this instance fairness (same pay) seems to be working against status (more qualifications and experience).  Yet again, status can often be more rewarding than money.  Another colleague was talking to me about the fact that she has had to give up one position of responsibility in order to take on another one - she explained that she is not able to do both because "we are all equal".  This got me thinking about the idea of being a small fish in a big pond, as opposed to a big fish in a small pond.  The status of the latter is higher, despite the fact that the pond (school in this case) is not as good - and some people get much more satisfaction out of that.  When I lived in Thailand status was very overt - you were either a phi or a nong.  A phi was someone of higher status (for example you could be older, more qualified, richer and so on) than the nong.  When people meet for the first time they go to great lengths to establish who is the phi and the nong - and after that they understand the relationship and things proceed harmoniously.  For me I found it a bit off-putting to be asked very personal questions by people I hardly knew ("how much do you weigh, how old are you, how much do you earn? etc)

Your brain also reacts to higher status, as dopamine and serotonin levels go up making you feel happier, and your cortisol levels go down reducing stress.  With more happy chemicals in your brain you are able to process more information, follow through with your intentions, and have more control than people of lower status.  Your brain works on keeping this elevated status, constantly findings ways that show you are smarter, healthier, stronger and so on, and along with status comes more certainty, more autonomy, more relatedness and often more fairness.

I'm now at the final section of the book which is about change.  I'm curious to know about how change impacts your brain (and how your brain can open you up to change).

Photo Credit: InAweofGod'sCreation Flickr via Compfight cc

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