Fathoming your social #2

As discussed in the previous article, the SCARF model draws inspiration upon findings of brain-based social research.

The importance of the approach-avoid response, as also stated in the article by David Rock, cannot be stressed enough. This is due to the strength of the biological response from the limbic system, namely the amygdala. This part of the limbic system is responsible for remembering if a given stimulus is good, therefore we can approach it, or bad, so we should avoid it. Recent social research states that it is exactly this mechanism of decisions that reinforces our behavior. It is an overarching and somewhat old, you might argue, way of thinking about our interactions. But let me state once again, there is underlying research for this and moreover, it is not so odd that such an archaic and innate instinct/mechanism has found its way to more elaborate patterns of behavior, such as our social life.

Social consequences

Some results of a series of studies has been presented in the article I mentioned, and before I delve into interpretations on the list of sub-domains, I would like to re-iterate some highlights.

  • Amygdala is primed for a threat reaction
  • Threat reactions seem to have longer-lasting effect than those of the approach reaction (non-APA style references can be found below) (¹)
  • Subliminally presented non-sense words similar to threat words defaulted to a threat response, meaning that the line is very thin and with an unfavorable slope (²)
  • People who had an approach reaction to the end-goal (tested with a paper maze) completed the task and then solved a different set of tasks more creatively than those who had an avoid reaction to the exit goal of the maze (³)


I will leave you to contemplate the social implications yourself, and by borrowing a wonderful table overview from the David Rock article:

Responsesynonyms in literatureWhich traditional primary factors activate the responseWhat social factors/situations activate the response
approachAdvance, attack, reward, resource, expand, solution, strength, construct, engageRewards in form of money, food, water, sex, shelter, physical assets for survivalHappy, attractive faces.Rewards in the form of increasing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness.
avoidWithdraw, retreat, danger, threat, contract, problem, weakness, deconstructPunishment in the form of removal of money or other resources or threats like a large hungry predator or a gun.Fearful, unattractive, unfamiliar faces. Threats in the form of decreasing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness


¹ Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, e., &Vohs, K.D. (2001). Bad is Stronger Than Good. Review of General Psychology, 5 (4), 323-370.

² Naccache, L., Gaillard, R.L., Adam, C., Hasboun, D.,Clemenceau, S., Baulac, M., Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L.(2005). A direct intracranial record of emotions evoked by subliminal words. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 102, 7713-7717.

³ Friedman R. and Foster J. (2001). The effects of promotion and prevention cues on creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1001-1013.


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