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The Neuroscience of Organizational Culture

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Kevin Weitz

Sometime ago I delivered a presentation to three large groups of human resources professionals totaling about 1300 people across different geographic regions including Asia, Europe and North America. The topic I was invited to speak on was the neuroscience of fear in the workplace. Initially I wondered whether this topic would be of interest to this group, but to my surprise it was the most watched of the five topics during this five hour long program. What was also interesting was the large number of questions that were posed during this virtual presentation. The essence of this experience is that many people experience anxiety and fear often during their day to day work experience, and they want to know how these negative behaviors (and cultures) develop in the first place, and more importantly what can be done to change a company’s culture and behavior in order to avoid the results of fear and anxiety.

The Neuroscience of Culture

Very little research has been conducted on the neuroscience of organizational culture. Robert Doidge, psychiatrist and author of “The Brain that Changes Itself” (2007) describes the relationship between national or societal culture and the brain. He notes that conventional science suggests that the brain – from which all thoughts and actions emanate – produces what we understand as culture in societies. However, he continues, neuroscientific research in recent years regarding this perspective is limited:

Culture is not just produced by the brain; it is also by definition a series of activities (experiences) that shape the mind … we become “cultured” through training in activities, such as customs, arts, ways of interacting with people and the use of technologies and the learning of beliefs and shared philosophies and religion.

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