How the SCARF model can help you with learning transfer

The SCARF model, which is of course an acronym, was first published by David Rock in 2008.

• Status, which is about relative importance to others: it is our sense of worth; it’s where we fit into the hierarchy at work, both socially and organisationally.

• Certainty, which concerns being able to predict the future and having a sense of clarity. A person’s brain uses fewer resources in familiar situations than unfamiliar ones and working with a lack of clarity can increase a person’s stress levels.

• Autonomy, which provides people with a sense of control over events: people need to feel that they have choices available to them, and a lack of choices (and therefore autonomy) will be processed as a threat situation.

• Relatedness, which is a sense of safety with others: people are social animals and naturally form social groups and build relationships, which, if certain and secure, trigger a reward response.

• Fairness, which is a perception of exchanges between people: if something is perceived as unfair, the brain will go into a threat response.

The SCARF model identifies the five domains that activate the primary reward or primary threat circuitry in a person’s brain. We tend to behave in ways that try to minimise perceived threats and maximise rewards, so we can look at a stimulus through the lens of these five domains to try and predict how people might respond to that stimulus.

According to David Rock, “Data gathered through measures of brain activity, using FMRI scanners and electroencephalographic (EEG) machines, or gauging hormonal secretions, suggests that the same neural responses that drive us toward food or away from predators are triggered by our perceptions of the way we are treated by other people”.

In other words, the brain treats many social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards.

If a person feels that they are being threatened, their primitive emotional brain will quickly work to protect them, and this neurochemical storm reduces their ability for rational thought, to make decisions, to solve problems, and to collaborate.

If people feel that they will receive a reward, they will bring more cognitive resources, insights, ideas for action, fewer perceptual errors, and a wider field of view.

If you want people to experiment and practise to accomplish learning transfer, it is going to be much more beneficial to do that within an environment where there is a minimal sense of threat.

Look at the components of the SCARF model.

What could or would a delegate perceive as a threat?