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The SCARF Model

The SCARF model was first developed in 2008 by the neuroscientist David Rock and is particularly helpful with regards to organizational challenges and change management.

The idea behind SCARF is closely related to Barbara Frederickson's Broaden and Build Theory, which generally states that the safer and happier we feel, the better we perform.

SCARF is an acronym for the five social domains that cause the same threat and reward responses as the ones we depend on for survival. They are as follows:

S Status

Our relative importance to others (seen by ourselves and others)

C Certainty

Our ability to predict the future

A Autonomy

Our sense of control over the events in our lives

R Relatedness

How safe and connected we feel with others

F Fairness

How fair we perceive decisions involving us have been

The idea is that humans want to minimize threats and maximize rewards. A threat is a way to describe things that cause us to feel a wide range of negative emotions, such as fear, sadness, anxiety and depression. Rewards, on the other hand, describe things that cause us to feel positive emotions, like happiness, creativity, curiosity, hope, and love.

It has been found that our responses to threats lead to:

  • Blood being redirected from the brain to the muscles

  • Less creativity

  • Fewer insights

  • Fewer novel ideas

  • A focus on the present

Our responses to rewards lead to:

  • Increased blood flow to the brain

  • More creativity

  • Problem solving and insights

  • New ideas

  • An ability to focus on bigger things

This model can be used to encourage employee engagement and effective collaboration by minimizing perceived threats and maximizing the positive feelings generated by reward.

You can watch David Rock on TEDx here:


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