The power of SCARF

The SCARF suite of assessments get directly to the core issues that drive engagement at work. Based on recent neuroscientific research, these assessments identify how well an organization or manager is providing people with what the brain requires in social settings for optimal performance and engagement.

The assessments are quick to complete, easy to scale and generate powerful insights and actions about collaborating with and influencing others more effectively.

The model is also simple to understand and therefore simple to remember.

About the model

The SCARF model (Rock, 2008) is a summary of important discoveries from neuroscience about the way people interact socially.

The model is built on three central ideas:

  1. The brain treats many social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards (Lieberman, & Eisenberger, 2009). 
  2. The capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased under a reward response (Elliot, 2008).
  3. The threat response is more intense and more common and often needs to be carefully minimized in social interactions (Baumeister et al, 2001).

The model is made up of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. These five domains have been shown in many studies to activate the same reward circuitry that physical rewards activate, like money, and the same threat circuitry that physical threats, like pain, activate (Rock, 2009b).

Understanding that these five domains as primary needs helps individuals and leaders better navigate the social world in the workplace (Rock, 2009b).

Understanding the five domains

The SCARF model involves five domains of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

  • Status is about relative importance to others.
  • Certainty concerns being able to predict the future.
  • Autonomy provides a sense of control over events.
  • Relatedness is a sense of safety with others - of friend rather than foe.
  • Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people.

These five domains activate either the 'primary reward' or 'primary threat' circuitry (and associated networks) of the brain. For example, a perceived threat to one's status activates similar brain networks to a threat to one's life. In the same way, a perceived increase in fairness activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward.

The model enables people to more easily remember, recognize, and potentially modify the core social domains that drive human behavior.

For a more detailed look at the neuroscience behind the model, please read SCARF: A brain based model for collaborating with and influencing others, by David Rock (for more articles please visit the Resources section).

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