Fairness is a feeling. Something feels fair or unfair at a fundamental level. It’s only later that we tend to think it through. That is somewhat the gist of yesterday’s post.
In coaching we have to remember that in dealing with issues around fairness we are dealing with emotional rather than purely cognitive responses. We are dealing with feelings – and in dealing with feelings the first thing we have to do is defuse the emotion. This is not the same thing as taking it away. Rather, it is the coach’s task to help an individual manage the emotion. This can include deep breathing exercises, quiet meditation and in particular, the use of reframing to lead an individual from a purely emotional response to a more considered cognitive response through use of the ladder of inference.
Remembering that issues of fairness are emotional rather than cognitive in nature will help both coach and client move more swiftly to a resolution.
If I am treated fairly I tend to feel good. It’s a proportional situation rather than something so hard and fast as a particular amount. Given the situation in which I find myself, fairness is relevant to the total. Less in an environment of scarcity can feel as good as more does in a situation of plenty.
UCLA psychologists Golnaz Tabibnia, and colleagues Ajay Satpute and Matthew Lieberman find that separate brain regions become active depending upon whether one perceives that he or she is being treated fairly. Unfair treatment activates the anterior insula, a region associated with the processing of negative emotions. Treatment that is perceived as fair activates the ventral striatum, an area associated with reward.
Both areas are part of the quickly reacting emotional complexes within the brain and swiftly overrule the more deliberate, conscious utilitarianism that would evaluate the usefulness of the reward rather than its proportion of fairness. This tends to give us a default position in which our emotional fairness response is our first response – and our unthinking and reactive response until we have time to more cognitively assess the situation.
In other words, it is an underlying process which can demand reframing of mental models, acceptance, rationalization, or any of the other more rational mental activities that we engae in. But that being said, it is a core response, a part of TED that demands reconciliation if unfair. The suggestion is that we are indeed hardwired for fairness.
Links: Hardwired for Fairness
The Influence of others, Empathy and Learning to do Good
Practice Giving for your Health and Peace of Mind
Paying Taxes makes me Feel Good?
Attention is Biased Towards Emotion
The debate around free will ebbs and flows with each new study. We certainly like to think that we have the ability to freely make and follow the decisions that we make. Most of the time anyway. We also seem to like blaming anything or anybody other than oursleves when situations start “heading south” as the old saying goes.
When do we make decisions? At what point do we become aware that we’ve made a decision? And at the point at which we realize that we’ve made a decision, have we perhaps made it earlier than we realize.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, have demonstrated that portions of the brain iinvolved in our decision-making processes are activated up to seven seconds before we are consciously aware that we have made a decision.
As they are quick to point out – “Our study shows that decisions are unconsciously prepared much longer ahead than previously thought. But we do not know yet where the final decision is made. We need to investigate whether a decision prepared by these brain areas can still be reversed.”
So the jury remains out for the moment, at least in terms of this study. When do I decide? At some point in time.
Link: Decision-making may be Surprisingly Unconscious Activity
Why do we behave? Janneke Joly, Ph.D., the University of Groningen, suggests that we are prompted by others to do so and that we do it under three distinct influences – other people’s physical presence, the association of a particular person with a normative behavior, or having their memory on our minds. In other words, my mother standing next to me, the association of her with cleaning my plate of all its food, or the memory of her telling me to clean my plate will all have the effect of influencing me to finish my meal.
Now, if the norm happens to be that altruism or doing good is a proper thing to do, then each of the three influences above will tend to direct me to do good. But why I do good could be motivated by a variety of things. Recent research by psychologist Lidewij Niezink, also of the University of Groningen, suggests that we help friends due to our empathy with them whereas we tend to help relatives because we expect help back in return. This has a certain logic. As the old cliche goes, you can’t choose your relatives. We may or may not have a lot in common with siblings or parents whereas we will tend to have more in common with the friends that we choose – hence an easier time empathizing with them.
Finally, we are hardly off the hook if we state that we just don’t have a lot of empathy for people, period. Maybe so. But researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison state that kindness and compassion can be learned. Functional MRI studies indicate that “brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.” Activity increased in the insula, a portion of the brain where bodily representations of emotion tend to be processed, and the temporal parietal juncture, which processes empathy. The net result was that individuals who practiced “compassion meditation,” the art of generating kind and compassionate thoughts towards others, thought and acted more compassionately.
So in summary, thoughts of my mother telling me to be kind to my crazy Aunt Meg will influence me to do so, even though I don’t want to. I may expect that Aunt Meg will be nice to me in return, even though she and I have little in common. Nevertheless, under my mother’s influence I decide to do so and after a few minutes of quiet thoughts of good will towards her I surprisingly find it easier to do so. Anybody relate?