Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

November 17, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Brain Research


  • ASU is involved in new research that’s helping us understand certain functions of the brain that cause people to make gut decisions based on instinct. Dr. Pierre Balthazard of ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business explains what we can learn from this research.
Guests:
  • Dr. Pierre Balthazard - W.P. Carey School of Business
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript

Ted Simons:
We think. We feel. And we make gut decisions based on instinct. We now have a much better understanding of that third faculty of the brain, thanks to research by Pierre Balthazard, principal investigator for the neuroscience of leadership project at ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business. He joins us now. Good to see you here.

Pierre Balthazard:
Thanks for the invitation.

Ted Simons:
Let's start with your research, and what exactly you were looking for.

Pierre Balthazard:
Well, look. I'm in a school of business. The W.P. Carey School of Business. And for years I've been studying the concept of leadership. From the previous story, we know this country needs a lot of leadership, so it's a very, very important concept. And I wanted to see if there was another type of microscope to study, OK, going beyond what type of tools were available to stay -- say who's good, who's bad, in what situations they're good, and what situations they're bad. From that we figured out that, hey, there is a cognitive side, so you need to be at least intelligent enough to be able to lead. There's definitely feeling. So as you know, there's been a lot of stuff written over the past 30 years on emotional and emotional control. And the one thing that was missing was, how do we actually act? So several months ago I was introduced to a local individual that does work on the cognitive ability of the human brain. And to us, looking at leadership, and not being able to explain leadership just by intelligence or feeling, I said, hey, let's take a look.

Ted Simons:
When you talk about conation, you're talking about gut decisions.

Pierre Balthazard:
Instinct, willful act, how do you about doing what it is you want to do.

Ted Simons:
We have a visual here of someone conducting -- I guess involved with the particular study. They have a hat on with the cords and wires, what's going on?

Pierre Balthazard
You've got a gentleman here, a participant in our stayed, he's got 19 electrode, each can actually sense as a million volt. All this is being captured in a computer system. A generation ago you need add super computer to do this. Now with your P.C. you can actually collect in real time exactly what happens in the brain. Where it occurs, and what are the electrical function in the electrical ratios.

Ted Simons:
OK. So -- I think we have another graphic of someone else involved. Are they being asked, like this person here, is she being asked questions, is she seeing stimuli? What's going on?

Pierre Balthazard:
Sometimes, like in the first picture we have an individual that is not doing anything. And in the picture you're looking at now, this individual will be asked to do something. Well, when we study the brain, we study the brain in an intrinsic fashion, that means just the baseline measure, what's going on when you're not doing anything at all, and we have found that you can actually explain a lot about leadership when you look at what the brain is doing when it's not doing anything at all. And then we put people on task. And we sometimes as in the case of this particular study, we put them in task that they do not fit ever are and sometimes in tasks that they do fit. And we take a look at what the brain does in terms of responding to a stimuli that they may like, or may dislike.

Ted Simons:
So is it fair to say we all have conation, we just use it in different ways and thus character develops?

Pierre Balthazard
Right. There are a lot of action modes. Four main action nodes in conation. We will be looking at an example in a while of somebody called a fact finder. Some of us really like facts and other people -- just give me the bottom line, I don't need to know all the information. So when we are looking at a fact finder, it's a person that is very much involved in information processing. So what you would expect to see in a person whose brain is already preprogrammed to be a fact finder is somebody that would have a lot of connectivity, parts of the brain associated with information processing, really active and working together.

Ted Simons:
I'm guessing on the lower level on either end that's someone who's got it going on.

Pierre Balthazard:
In fact, when you look at this picture at the top level you've got four distinct frequency ranges. And what's interesting is the last one. The data range, which is the range associated with the brain that's really active. A wake alert. The bottom is an explosion of that BEPT wave. Into subparts of BETA. We find a sea of connectivity in the ranges of the brain associated with information processing. So what that tells me is this was taken at -- with a person at rest. So that means that a fact finder is prewired to need information. So here we are comparing somebody that was a fact finder versus somebody that was not a fact finder. In fact we're looking at two groups. That's the color between the red and the blue. We have the sea of red here, basically says that, hey, fact finders have a need for information versus people who are not fact finders, really don't have that particular need.

Ted Simons:
If you want to be someone who is a fact finder, and let's say you want found out you're not up to snuff, can you develop that?

Pierre Balthazard:
You see, that's the difficult thing. There are aspects of brain waves that you can actually adjust. In fact, in the clinical side you have kids every day going to fix their attention deficit disorder by doing neuro-feedback. Conation may be so complicated as a concept that we night not be able to change conation. But maybe. It's an empirical question there. Are other things about leadership that we know that you can change. You can be more transformational, more visionary, you can be more attentive to detail. As far as conation, we're not quite sure yet.

Ted Simons:
We have another graphic regarding an individual's activity. It shows how stress is factored into here. And aye I think the bottom line now, the bottom will three, that's where stress is hitting the top three. What is that? That's where it's not hitting.

Pierre Balthazard:
You've got a person, same individual, this is not a group, it's an individual, and at the top it's the individual doing a task that does not stressful to that person. And at the bottom same individual, now we're providing them with a task we're asking them to do and this one does not match their conation action mode or profile. Hence, a blue color would indicate that the brain itself is quite free to do what it wants to do, and when you see some red, that means it's kind of dithering, it's working hard but not achieving very much. So you see that on the bottom picture, we found a sea of red and on the top picture, there is some red, but very little in comparison. So we did show and we predicted that when we gave an individual a task that was not working with their own profile, we would cause stress. And we in fact proved that point.

Ted Simons:
Is that something again that -- I know there was -- I don't know if this was your experiment or Cathy Colby's regarding an executive and -- or executives and putting down paper clips and pencils and just something as easy as -- I guess it was whole flood of these things and picking them out of something like that, is there a way I can get better at that?

Ted Simons:
Absolutely. The task that you were describing, this experiment, we weren't asking people to solve the AARP issue of a while ago. We were asking them basically to pick up certain things and to do certain things with just everyday things on a tabletop. The very simplest things do cause stress in senior executives. We had over a hundred senior executives involved in this very specific study, and asking senior executives to take just office supplies and do special things with it can in fact cause stress. So, yes, we did these types of activities and we can teach people if you know what their baseline is, what is your M.O.? We can then work with them to say, OK, in this situation you are feeling your stress. This is how you can remove that particular stress.

Ted Simons:
Is this the kind of thing where if you look at bill gates and he may have had X, Y, and Z, and you look at someone else, a very successful business person, they have A, B, and C. They could be so different you couldn't find a heck of a lot in common. What could you do then if you're looking for the best leader?

Pierre Balthazard:
But you know what? Leadership is often a group phenomenon. So if you have group think, often you will also have conative profiles similar within a group. The idea is to get diversity. Just like diversity in skin color or gender, you also want diversity in your conative profiles. That's really where it's at. So if you are of a certain type, you should not only attract people that are similar to you, but you should embrace people with diverse backgrounds. Even sometimes they may drive you nuts because they have a different profile than you, but if you learn to actually like these different profiles in your life, and take and harvest the different views of the world that they will provide you, you will in fact be a better decision-maker and I say better leader.

Ted Simons:
And with that in mind, things like government, education, things like business, this can all play a factor there.

Pierre Balthazard:
Absolutely. Education, if you knew the profile of the students in your classroom, you would change how you would teach. If you have fact finders, you provide them facts. If you have people that are quick-starts, give them exercise where they search certain things. Different profiles of leadership. Obviously this is one aspect. There's several other aspects, leadership is such a complicated issue. But what's interesting now is we do have a new microscope providing us with a laundry list of new knowledge about the human brain and how it affects leadership.

Ted Simons:
And there was study not too many years ago which seemed to suggest that as you age, especially there's a certain time of period before decision-making process isn't quite the same as it is when you're older, risks are taken, and these sorts of things. Can someone who is a certain type of profile when they are younger, do they just naturally develop into a different profile?

Pierre Balthazard:
Absolutely. You learn every day. A 5-year-old that is riding a bike, a tricycle, or maybe a bicycle with training wheels and one day, pop pushes in the back and the little wheels go off and we're now riding a bicycle. A new neuropathway was created in your brain.

Ted Simons:
But are you learning differently when you were older as opposed to when were you younger?

Pierre Balthazard:
You're always learning differently. What are you working with, OK, your brain is capturing everything, and you have a mental wall of the world. I can't take someone off the street and make them a fortune 500 leader because do you need all the knowledge. You need your life experiences. However, you can always tweak and that's where I think neurofeedback will have its main effect within the next several years. We will be able to take people that have -- the basic requirements for leadership and then kind of improve, where do they have deficiencies as opposed to starting from scratch.

Ted Simons:
With that in mind, what kind of follow-up research is planned?

Pierre Balthazard:
It's basically at ASU we are fortunate enough to be supported by agencies like the U.S. army, army research institute, I work a lot with west point, I have started work with the Air Force Academy. That's because these institutions, they train leaders. And not only do they train leaders, but these are leaders going in harm's way. So it's a special type of leadership. I'm fortunate enough to have enough resources to prove our concept and once the concept is proven, we're just right around the corner, then it's going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we'll be able to assess people's leadership and provide them with exercises as I said, to tweak and improve your leadership abilities on several fronts.

Ted Simons:
This is fascinating stuff. We look forward having you back whenever you want to map more brains and tell us what you found.

Pierre Balthazard:
Thank you so much.

Ted Simons:
Thank you.

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