Fear of change and a neural explanation for some of its morale issues

“Human brains have evolved a particularly strong capacity to detect what neuroscientists call ‘errors’: perceived differences between expectation and actuality.” David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” Strategy + Business, Summer 2006 at 73-4 (See my post of Jan. 3, 2006 on our inborn sensitivity to fairness.).

When a person detects a difference between what the person expected and what was delivered, one portion of the brain is particularly stimulated: the orbital frontal cortex. That location is closely connected to the brain’s fear circuitry, which resides in an organ called the amygdala (See my post of Feb. 12, 2006 on the amygdala hijack.). When those two brain areas react in tandem, they dampen the functioning of the prefrontal (controlled and rational) region and push people to become emotional and act more impulsively.

Change triggers this dual reaction; change in law departments causes emotional upset and impulsive responses arising to some degree out of fear. The brain needs communication and trust.

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