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Scientific Newsletter #20

The war in Ukraine from a chimpanzee's perspective. Understand how your brain biases situations and evaluates people

Again this week, I thank you for being here! Today we have an article to help you understand how your brain works in extreme situations and you can be biased. You’ll see that this has a lot of connection to understanding how change in organizations works. We’re also excited to announce that the Call for Speakers for the Enterprise Agility World Conference 2022 is open and you can be there!

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The #EAWC2022 isn’t just another Agile or Scrum conference. There are already a lot of events about these topics. It’s the only conference on science, organizational change, and enterprise agility for change professionals who want to take their careers to the next level beyond Agile and Scrum. 

We focus on new theories, practices, and ways of doing things. We invite neuroscientists who’re working to understand and develop new ideas for dealing with accelerated change. We also welcome organizational psychologists and sociologists who’re developing new practices and tools for dealing with highly volatile environments. 

We also invite Change consultantsAgile coaches, and others who’ve new ideas beyond Agile and Scrum, as well as Leaders who’re finding new ways to sense markets and adapt strategies. Last year we had about 800 attendees, and this year we hope to double this number!

We’re open to speakers from any country and in any language from around the planet. Your talk will be also translated into more than 30 languages, so you can reach the whole world.

The #EAWC2022 is the event of the year that allows you to take your career beyond Scrum, Agile, and Business Agility.

You can register your talk here:


Ready to Invest in Building a Resilient Organization?

We’ll continue our Enterprise Agility Foundations Training around the world in May and June. Join the leading institution providing leaders, managers, and change consultants with new opportunities to grow their careers towards Enterprise Agility and new ways to lead companies. Talk to one of our Certified Partners now and start moving in a new direction.

Rose Restrepo, Latin America, Certified Change Consultant, STARTING SOON!

Johana Chuquino and Daniela Imaña, Latin America, Certified Change Consultant, STARTING SOON!

Prasad Kamath, India and Asia, Certified Change Consultant, May 14th

Walter Shraiber, Latin America, Certified EA Leadership (I), May 16th

Greg Pitcher PK Savy, Asia Pacific, Certified Change Consultant, May 26th

Prasad Kamath, India and Asia, Certified EA Leadership (I), June 18th


The war in Ukraine from a Chimpanzee’s Perspective

By Erich R. Bühler 

Why do Russians believe the Kremlin narrative, while other countries in the world have a contrary view of the facts? Like many Europeans, we wonder how it’s possible that Russians can believe news that seems to be mostly fake? Surely they think the same about our narrative!

Why can’t you convince them that you’re in the right by showing them the facts, or they can do the same to you? Maybe we’re not as advanced as we think we’re after all. And believe it or not, this is the result of some pre-programmed structures in our brain and at least two hormones.

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When we say we’re not that advanced, we’ve to take a step back and compare ourselves to our brothers, the chimpanzees. Humans and chimpanzees share more than 98% of their DNA. And both have similar brain structures that divide the world into “us” and “them”. This thinking process is the result of millions of years of evolution and a complex set of social and hormonal factors in the brain. The latter favors nationalism or strong group affiliation.

Our brains make split-second distinctions between group members and outsiders, encouraging us to be friendly to the former and hostile to the latter. This is what we call human group identity. To understand the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism and conflicts—the potentially destructive form of bias against another group—we need to understand the biological and cognitive underpinnings that underlie them.

Our brains make split-second distinctions between group members and outsiders, encouraging us to be friendly to the former and hostile to the latter

Recognizing that these biases are automatic, unconscious, and are built at a very young age is critical to overcoming many of the world’s wars and military operations. Our brains make automatic, value-laden judgments about social groups at all times. And these processes occur unconsciously at first. When the thoughts become conscious, individuals have already been influenced.

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This influence can also be amplified when people are exposed to dangerous situations because the amygdala becomes more active, releasing cortisol and putting the person on alert or fight-or-flight mode. 

Although the anterior cingulate acts as a buffer before the amygdala is activated, cortisol is released as soon as the amygdala is turned on, affecting the function of the prefrontal cortex (the rational or thinking brain). This ultimately leads people to think differently, more in terms of survival.

There’s another hormone you should watch out for. Oxytocin in humans promotes a whole range of prosocial behaviors. Recent findings suggest that this hormone makes people behave more generous, trusting, empathetic, and expressive only toward group members (*).

Being part of a group (especially if it’s a successful group) also implies somehow being also successful, which stimulates oxytocin and a sense of safety (thus lowering cortisol levels). This process reinforces group affiliation and thus possible cognitive biases (favoring your point of view).

Being part of a group (especially if it’s a successful group) also implies somehow being also successful

It’s clear that this cognitive architecture and hormonal response evolved to keep us alive by belonging to coalitions or social alliances that allow us to survive. When we realize that all these processes are automatic in our brains, we begin to understand how close we still are to the chimpanzee and the 98% similarity at the DNA level.

Here we also see that nationalism is a mixture of human cognition and brain hormones. Therefore, it’s not easy to convince someone to see the world differently, even if you show them solid facts that prove their beliefs aren’t true.

One thing we’ve seen in the last two months is the use of complete narratives to justify war. Narratives shape perceptions of reality and have a great impact on human decision-making. Recent research using neuroimaging techniques shows the power of narratives to affect the human brain, influencing perception, cognition, emotion, and decision making. (**) 

Narratives shape perceptions of reality and have a great impact on human decision-making

It appears that meaning-making through narratives also impacts the default mode network structures (DMN) in the brain, specifically the precuneus. The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions that’s active when a person isn’t focused on the outside world.

To overcome these biases and go beyond the narrative, we’ve to work hard on self-knowledge and self-awareness and increase our intellectual humility. This is something we talked about in our leadership training at Enterprise Agility University when we work with leaders.

Recent studies show that people (and leaders) with higher levels of intellectual humility accept more perspectives from others and evaluate more information becoming also more flexible in the long term (***), or what we call Mental Agility. This seems to be the recipe for finally breaking this cycle that links us to the chimpanzee.

Without a higher degree of intellectual humilityself-knowledge, and self-awareness, we’ll be highly manipulable. And without recognizing the critical moment when the circuits that connect us to the chimpanzees are set in motion, we’ll continue to discriminate, kill in someone’s name, or wage wars because we think we’re better than others.

From Enterprise Agility University, we hope you found our scientific newsletter useful, and we’ll see you next week.


(*) Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism, Carsten K. W. De Dreu [email protected], Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, +1 , Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf-1Authors Info & Affiliations

(**) Neural Processing of Narratives: From Individual Processing to Viral Propagation, Iiro P. Jääskeläinen1 , Vasily Klucharev, Ksenia Panidi and Anna N. Shestakova

(***) The psychological roots of intellectual humility: The role of intelligence and cognitive flexibility. Leor Zmigrod, Sharon Zmigrod, Peter Jason, Rentfrow, Trevor W. Robbins

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