Mind-based Management Strategies

Mind-based Management Strategies


Better emotional regulation and improved emotional intelligence have a demonstrable impact on job performance. In particular, emotional regulation and their understanding is improved such that there is evidence for stress reduction, improved cognition, and better focus and concentration. While all of these skills will benefit individuals in every area of their lives, their quick and very popular adoption in the workplace has already resulted in a critique of these programs as McMindfulness. The problem with the adoption so far, is that the evidence has not reached a level of maturation. There is an identified recklessness about its application business which the following seeks to address. There are limitations in the neuroscience in spite of the recognized benefits, and there are limitations in terms of how well these strategies work across diverse populations. The aim of the following is to identify these limitations. By eliminating some of the problem areas, a better understanding of what definitely works and what is less than definitive can potentially emerge. The aim of this literature review is to show what techniques should be employed in order to measure job performance. If we know there are limitations to the current research, and we know that there are also measurable benefits to these techniques, it follows that a model of the application of mind-based management sciences in these areas ought to build on what is substantially known while avoiding those techniques where the outcomes are ambiguous. The goal of this literature is to support the design of a controlled experiment on mindfulness that shows how it can improve job performance, and more specifically, how performance itself can be measured in relation to these techniques.


Mind Based Management Strategies (MBMS) is a general term used in the following that will envelope current strategies that employ neuroscience and psychology in the form of an applied organizational behaviour model. Currently, neuroleadership, the cultivation of emotional intelligence and mindfulness based stress reduction applications are all being used in management research and these are what are being abbreviated as MBMS. What all of these areas share in common, is a similar neuroscientific explanation and the application of mindfulness awareness techniques. All of the following models use the neuroscience that describes two functions of the limbic system the pleasure-reward-axis that results in the body’s production of rewarding neurochemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin. And, conversely, the fear and avoidance network. The importance about the pleasure reward network and the stress network is no less different than a reconsideration of the carrot and the stick as motivators. The idea of a carrot has long been recognized as a positive motivator in the management sciences and it has long been demonstrated that it can be engineered for greater productivity. In conventional managerial theory, the Taylor theory of productivity and incentive have represented the dominant metrics. By testing his theory in factory production in the Nineteenth Century, he recognized that workers would work harder for money and moreover, if one can double their hourly wage but they have increased their output by a greater amount than the wage increase, the profit is the difference. Work incentives have long been defined in terms of monetary reward schemes as the defining carrot. MBMS is growing because value is being added by better interpersonal relations, and greater recognition of the emotional rewards that come from improved management. In recent years, the growth in interest in areas such as Corporate Social Responsibility and Organizational Citizenship Behaviour is largely explained because a culturally diverse workforce and younger ‘millennial’s’ are being identified as driven or motivated by more/other than just financial incentives. They are recognized as individuals who place a premium on whether their own values are reflected in the organization that they are working for. Likewise, external market demand is also making organizations realize that the optics for improving both CSR and OCB can likewise add value.  To understand the needs that are beyond mere profit incentive, requires a better understanding of the basic mechanics of the brain and the some of the key areas of socially conditioning that are needed to explain the social neurology of behaviour. In terms of this growth, the focus has been on the two main areas of reward seeking and stress avoiding. These systems combined with developmental psychology, explain how emotional responses to work tasks greatly impact the outcomes. That is, in both positive and negative ways.

Emotional regulation is now recognized as a buffer against disregulated responses, and this is an important consideration with regard to the importance of communication and its impact on organizational behaviour. Mindfulness has so far been identified as one of the ways in which emotional regulation and emotional intelligence have been improved, and in the following it will be situated as prominent in the neuroleadership models developed by major figures in this field (Elger, 2006; Rock, 2011; Pillay, 2014). The first tested and developed version of a mindfulness based stress reduction program was developed by Kabit-Zinn (1990) at the Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, and it successfully aided medical students toward stress reduction. It has been an evolving practice in organizations ever since. The success reported in improving stress management is conclusive. Further, attention, focus and cognition are all areas of mental improvement that have been recognized through rigorous and controlled studies(Mak, 2017; Niemiec, 2010; Pillay, 2011; 2017; Siegel, 2014; 2018; Singleton, 2014). It is now being adopted by many Fortune 500 companies and has now been successfully tested for the reduction of stress in hundreds of controlled studies going back to the early 1990’s when the scientific efficacy first became evaluated. Currently, there are thousands of studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness (see: Mindfulness Research Guide, https://www.mindfulexperience.org/). The problem that the following will address, are the lack of studies that correlate the personal success of the practice with organizational success. It is one thing to claim that less stress, better focus, improved cognition and better focus are demonstrable among individuals, and it is another to claim that we have proven how these attributes measurably translate into better job performance. A solid inference suggests their effectiveness because these effects are valuable for the execution of almost any work tasks, but this is only an inference until better impact evaluations are designed and executed.

The following review will follow a number of themes, and the main among these are the limitations in the current neuroscience and therefore, how these limitations can impede or impact the study of MBMS. At the same time, the problems or limitations present opportunities for pivoting newer strategies accordingly. The progress in brain research and positive correlation between MBMS continues to grow in many different areas that will be outlined in the following, and chief among these include the neuroscientific importance of the: (1) Hypothalimic-pituary-adrenal axis (HPAaxis), (2) the pleasure-reward-system combined with an Attachment Theory model of childhood development (2) neuroplasticity and then the positive results from various techniques that employ: emotional regulation techniques, mindfulness based strategies, and emotional intelligence cultivation and enhancement. These three areas present growth areas in the neurosciences that have had measurable outcomes, and a case can be made that the research that expands our knowledge of these components, will continue on the basis of the progress and results so far observed. At the same time, there are some really important limitations. In very broad terms, the area of epigenetics and the gut-brain-axis are two examples of emergent neuroscientific developments that have both been recognized to have broad implications for how we understand human behaviour (Siegel, 2014). Specific to the models that are currently being used in MBMS, one of the key scientific limitations concerns the dependence on data taken from MRI’s (Lindenbaum, 2014). Some of the key premises in the neuroscience underlying the MBMS, depend significantly on MRI’s. Recently, a very large meta-analysis of over 100 MRI and functional MRI (fMRI) demonstrated that a median of only 30 % of the findings could be replicated(Turner, 2018). Without replication and repeatability, this particular median means that there is no statistical significance and those are two cornerstones of scientific methodology in general. At the same time, the study also concluded that the larger the sample base or greater and more diverse the population base of the study, the greater the probability of a greater median in terms of replication or repeatability. This is a point mentioned because the limitations in terms of neuroscience as applied to areas of frontal brain cognition, and the forms of cognition’s and behaviours described by some of the major figures in the field of neuroscience and management theory (Elgar, 2006;2015, Pillay, 2011, 2015; Rock, 2008, 2011) might be premature in some of their assumptions. The following will look at ways of streamlining those areas where the scientific veracity is greater. For example, what would a neuroscience framework look like without the dependence on fMRI and MRI data? A case will be made in this review that argues that future studies in MBMS has to focus more on ‘lower brain stem’ impacts on behaviour than ‘upper brain stem’ activities. Emotional disregulation happens when top down mental processing is overwhelmed by the ‘bottom up’ emotional responses. The strategies taken focus on the relationship between bottom up and top down processes in order through techniques that based on attentional focus and attention to physical focuses such as breathing. Brain changes or plasticity has been factually observed in terms of the greater connections made between the fore-brain and the lower brain-stem (Siegel, 2014). With regard to the brain areas, motor functions are controlled by the lower regions. This means heart regulation, hormonal production and breathing are all autonomic. Our brain continues these processes whether we want to think them or not, however, the exception among these is breathing. Breathing exercises are one of the long recognized forms of impactful or evidenced-based techniques in the regulation of emotions, and they are universally used in meditation techniques and in some cultures, this practice goes back a millennium. Breathing regulation entails a conscious brain connected to an entire region of the brain that operates unconsciously, and moreover, these pathways are being shown to improve over time. And, these brain changes are significantly amplified in groups such as Buddhist Monks who commit extensive time to meditation and breathing practice techniques.

The following will maintain with the current model that a better ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ integration/regulation is a key verifiable goal supported by neuroscience, but that the current models over-emphasize ‘top down’ strategies. If it is the case that there is limitations on how we understand the ‘top'(current state of neuroscience), it would follow that the ‘bottom’ ought to become the focus. As a method of analysis, the following will look at the literature from a standpoint of underwriting a management strategy that focuses more on what we know about bottom processing than top down processing. There are too many problems with the scientific evidence in its current form. At the same time, there is evidence within their strategies and so focusing on those areas will also be a theme that will serve to guide this analysis.


For this literature review, a number of databases were consulted and they included: Google Scholar, Academic OneFile, EBSCO Research database and LexisNexis. The keywords used in these databases included: management, business, science, mindfulness, neuroleadership, emotional intelligence, meditation, emotion regulation, stress reduction and job performance. The aim was to find controlled studies for the application of mindfulness based programs in the work place. In particular, studies that demonstrate a link between the application of these techniques and business or organizational performance measures that demonstrate improvements in output or productivity. Although stress reduction and greater job satisfaction have been demonstrated and these have impacts on job performance, the goal was to find how these impacts on job performance were measured or evaluated. To this end, this study eliminated those studies that verified only what were already known benefits. In turn, the focus became a more general look at how and why these strategies are being used. This literature review focused on those studies that are among the most referenced or cited in Google Scholar and where the content of the study was aimed at improving business performance.


Daniel Goleman (1995; 2006) did not invent the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI), but he is credited with creating a renewed interest in the area and in particular, how it can be applied to management practices. For organizational managers, it is maintained that the greater the EI, the better able individuals are able to help improve productivity. His background prior to developing EI for managers was focused on research in the area of meditation and psychology, and these areas are key to the development of his thought. In this work (2011) along with others, there are five basic competencies that he defines and outlines in terms of practically applying them. They include: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. The foundation for this tiered approach to EI, is self-awareness. This is a competency that aids in its application toward all of the other skills. It is an area that builds confidence, and self-regulation such that an individual is confident, capable of taking criticism, and very certain of their own goals and expectations. Without this competency, it is difficult to move toward the others. In particular, self-regulation entails modulating reactionary behaviours (positive as well as negative) such that communication and social interactions remain balanced and non-judgemental. Clearly integrated with this area, are the interactive capacities that are embodied in his notion of empathy and social skills. In turn, these core areas are applied to leadership styles.

Goleman’s work is being briefly reviewed because of its clarity and its influence on business leadership principles and ideas. There are a number of limitations that will be discussed with respect to other sources examined in this review (see: Lindenbaum, 2014; Mattingly, 2018). Briefly stated, Goleman offers little in the way of empirical evidence. Comments like the following are common: “In my research, extreme displays of negative emotion have never emerged as a driver of good leadership.” (Goleman, 1995 54). There is no citation of research in this instance and many others. At the same time that there is a limitation of his own provisions for evidence, this is the main point of criticism. His ideas have been examined more rigorously by others (see: Ghadiri, 2014), and even in his own work (Goleman, 1995 206). This work was chosen because it provides a broad and introductory overview and it contains his most key ideas. His audience are not academics, but managers and leaders. The distinction goes far toward explaining the lack of empirical evidence. At the same time, he cannot be ignored because he has been very influential and his writing is lucid and easily grasped by an audience mostly interested in improving business acumen.

David Rock is a case study in terms of methodological concerns about the neuroscience that underwrites his management strategies. Some of the main methodological problems identified in this review (see: Ghadiri, 2014; Lindenbaum, 2014; Mattingly, 2017). At the same time, there is a good focus on the areas of the brain that are the most significant in the general strategy of Neuroleadership in his work and they present as a good point to pivot from. His management strategy is called the SCARF method and it is based on the neuroscientific relevance that explains psychology and organizational behaviour. Status is the first within the framework: “Along with relatedness and fairness, status is another major driver of social behaviour. People will go to great lengths to protect or increase their status. A sense of increasing status can be more rewarding than money, and a sense of decreasing status can feel like your life is in danger. Status is another primary reward or threat. Your brain manages status using roughly the same circuits which are used to manage other basic survival needs.”(Rock, 2008 Ebook). Rock’s model about the prosocial benefits of status enhancement as a cost effective strategy comes from developmental psychology.

In the growth sensitive periods of brain development, the brain produces oxytocin to reward interaction between a mother and a child, and this is a survival mechanism shared across mammal brains and it is specifically connected to the network of the limbic system. The growth sensitive period for the limbic system is when a child is conditioned to feel security in terms defined by its needs being mirrored by the external world and much of that is defined by social interaction with a primary caregiver. Rock’s theory builds on the idea that the prosocial circuits of the brain are better activated when individuals are recognized in the way in which they want to recognize themselves. At the mirror stage of social development, a need is conditioned where security needs are met when what is external recognizes what is needed. This is described as the need for mutual recognition and in adult social environments, Rock argues that there is a need to be viewed and understood in ways that are acknowledged and validated. To enhance status, the notion of ‘certainty’ follows in his method. is a key concept. In the limbic system, the HPAaxis axis (HPAaxis) is what describes a state whereby a small amount of stress and anxiety can invoke the fight-flight-freeze response to fear. Adrenalin is the key output of this response, and it is the biochemical equivalent of speed or amphetamines. Adrenalin allows the body’s energy to be transformed for greater physical strength and this is known as priming. Mentally, this means that the bodies response includes taking blood away from the frontal and prefrontal cortex areas of the brain. When an individual becomes anxious, their capacity for reasoning is diminished as a consequence of an over active HPAaxis system. Fear of the unknown is one of the most common, and certainty becomes a basic human need along with status.

Autonomy is another principle of neuroscience that describes a key area of neuroleadership. Considering again, the importance of individuation and greater freedom and autonomy through ‘growth sensitive’ periods of brain development, there is a strong need for perceived self control and this means a laissez-faire model of management: “You could help the person increase her sense of status, perhaps by encouraging her. Or increase someone’s sense of certainty by making implicit issues more explicit, say, by clarifying your objectives. Or increase a person’s sense of autonomy by ensuring that he is making the decisions and coming up with the ideas, not just listening to your suggestions. Another useful step is to help people simplify a problem into as few words as possible, to reduce the load on their prefrontal cortex and thus reduce its overall activation level”..(Rock, 2008, Ebook). The key neurological areas for the SCARF model are the first three, and the overall or most general level of strategy are the goals of practising relatedness and fairness. More than they are organizational behaviour management areas that are directly or importantly related to brain research, they are principles that embody how the brain rewards itself through the production of oxytocin, vasopressin and dopamine through prosocial behaviour. Simply increasing the amount of social interaction will show benefits of repeating the prosocial rewards brought about by these measurably/verified neuroscience of the pleasure reward system. In some school settings, group project learning is replacing lecture based learning because the bonding that happens through social interaction. Operant conditioning is the technical term in psychology for when a memory association created with positive or negative rewarding activity creates an incentive to reproduce the experience. The more a child finds a pleasurable connection with a topic or a project, the greater the probability that they will be motivated to consistently engage with it.

As applied in the curriculum in Finland, who have had consistently higher outcomes even in the math’s and sciences than other nations within the European Union who routinely track these performance measures. Fairness is a validating practice built on some learned strategies of self-knowledge. Rock maintains that the same brain mechanisms and pathways that are used to understand oneself are the same regions that understand other individuals. What is important, are the empathetic networks that are likewise implicated. The greater the degree of self awareness, the mutually recognized an individual can be aware of others in the very same inward looking way: “A sense of fairness in and of itself can create a strong reward response, and a sense of unfairness can generate a threat response that lasts for days.”(Rock, 2011, Ebook).

Srinivasan S. Pillay, M.D. is a recognized scholar in the area of braining imaging research and has been a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Founder, CEO, and President of NeuroBusiness Group. They do training in the area of executive coaching, and they are a company with coaches who are trained in an  application of brain science based method. It is essentially a model that demonstrates that profitability and personal satisfaction in the business environment are mutually determining. They are consultants to numerous significant Fortune 500 Group corporations. Pillay’s work is more rigorous in terms of the neuroscience, but it expands and builds on Rock and essentially Golem’s work. One of the significant additions to the strategy, is the greater emphasis on positive psychology. An important paradigm shift in psychology cannot be overemphasized because of advances in the past two to three decades of neuroscience research. From the turn of the Twentieth century until the onset and development of brain imaging studies and improved genetics modelling and data collection (1980’s onward), the dominant model was driven by lesion based brain studies and abnormal psychology.

The study of humans predominantly has focused on the gathering of information on the basis of identifying and treating certain behavioural pathologies. The Diagnostics and Statistics Manuel (DSM V) breaks down mental health in terms of abnormalities, and these are further categorized and cross-categorized using behaviours as the markers for identification and also treatment. A problem that newer paradigms address, shift the focus away from problems or abnormalities toward a form of human thriving in terms of functioning and resilience. The focus on negative behaviours or abnormal psychology   An easy example of this limitation can be understood from some recent research in neuroscience. The amygdala is implicated in the perception of stress, and not every individual is the same in terms of how hyper or even hypo sensitive the basic response. This means that individuals have different resilience levels toward stress, and one of the biomarkers that is co-morbid with many mental health problems is anxiety. Anxiety and stress are similar to each other because of the impairments caused with executive function maintained the frontal and prefrontal cortex. With a focus only on behaviour without neuroscience, the universality of anxiety and it is inseparable parallel with the stress function (HPAaxis) is not given its due focus and attention. Likewise, the growth in plasticity understanding entails that changing the brain is a threat to a behaviour focused model that aims to control the symptoms. The formula for neuroplasticity varies depending on the study and behaviour being examined. In general, grey matter changes along with increased levels of blood oxygen level dependency (BOLD) are observable in the brain when an focused activity is done for 25 to 28 minutes per day and for 25 to 28 days.

One of the largest studies on mindfulness conducted by Harvard had 500 subjects and brain imaging scans demonstrated grey matter and BOLD differences. Siegel (2018) points to three main components of the brain that have been identified as changed after meditation practice over time, and they include the amygdala, hippocampus and corpus collosum. The amygdala is what senses or reacts to stress and fear and its reduction results in less activation or emotional sensitivity. The hippocampus is important to memory recall and the amygdala works in tandem with it to identify past threats. Individuals who experience greater levels of stress, have smaller sized hippocampus’ because of the impact that cortisol (stress caused) has on a growing brain. Finally, the corpus collosum is what bridges the left and right hemispheres and in a sense, it is significant to bridge emotional and rational regions (Siegel, 2018).  Data is unquestionably one of the ongoing issues along with replication in terms of the business adoption of MBMS. Pillay adopts much of what is emphasized about the pleasure reward system and the stress access from Rock, but approach’s the tactics for engineering with these systems with some important distinctions.

He outlines the importance of personal identity and the differences across individuals such that it challenges some of the emphasis that is placed on inter relating. Above, the emphasis Rock places on self knowledge was based on its effect or impact on the capacity to read others. They are the same network systems and therefore the integration of one, supposes the other. What Pillay raises, is the assumptions that are made about self knowledge and how nuanced the distinctions can be given the age, generation, gender, culture and sexual orientation of the individual. In short, identity is a form of living memory and while we share the structure in common, we do not share experiences in common. Likewise, the conceptual categories to understand our experiences also vary among the same demographics mentioned above. Pillay is much closer to the positive psychology of Siegel (2018). One of the important insights they further share in common, is the negative correlation between prosocial network activation with the HPAaxis. The nature of an axis is that it is always on, and so individuals are always primed for stress or to be alert for the threat of any danger.

A significant part of the threat response system is shared across mammals, and while it has had an important function with regard to survival in other environments, it is regarded as a maladapted response to a contemporary human environment. One approach to dealing with stress and how to minimize the response, is to do adaptive behaviours. For example, the paradigm of cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on those techniques that an individual can use to minimize the activation of the stress response and in turn, recognize the patterns of the environments or situations that most activate it. These are techniques that are useful, and described in terms of their neuroscience in Pillay’s work but he also emphasizes that an even more proactive and prosocial form of mindfulness behaviour is an even more effective buffer to stress. One of the facts about stress and anxiety, is that individuals with greater amounts of confidence have less stress. However, here is where the problems with confidence runs into concerns about personal identity. Confidence itself is a socially bound characteristic, and therefore relative to experience, personal histories and personal environments. The limitation of the cognitive model is correlated with a need to break down personal triggers and these cannot be separated from more varied types and forms of memories. Moreover, they could be personal background histories that are potentially traumatic. Pillay’s work cites research that demonstrates how bottom up rather than top down processing can actually improve the normal ‘top down’ nature of reason prevailing over emotions.

Again, like Siegel a lot of the techniques used were developed alongside research that was done with regard to their employment in managing traumatic memories. One of the markers of post traumatic stress disorder, is an overly hyper aroused HPAaxis system and mindfulness based strategies have now been demonstrated to be one of the most effective means of minimizing the impact of difficult associations, triggers and memories experienced by military veterans in the US.. By connecting with the senses through awareness techniques, studies have shown that thinking becomes clearer and more concise: “Rather than “thinking” about the self, mindfulness results in people being aware of themselves without thinking. This has been shown to decrease amygdala activation, whereas self-reflection actually increases amygdala activation compared to doing something neutral …  this technique can be especially helpful when leaders are stressed or anxious.(Pillay, 2011, Ebook). Pillay maintains that mindfulness is a form of self-understanding that does not involve thinking but instead involves self-awareness, but that the awareness has to be processed as a sensory focused or derived form of understanding.

This ability to be “still” and to practice just “being” with one’s body and mind without active interventions has been shown to be critical to effective decision making, and Pillay cites many studies that conclusively support these practices. His central argument for its value is based on the parallel between the brain circuit that activates when a leader is mindful, and how it intersects with the same networks or circuits that control information processing. Without this mindfulness, the amygdala over activates and the individual finds themselves somewhere on an axis that will terminate in a fight-flight-freeze response. One of the means that he has researched his methods, is with a phone app that utilizes a method to manage anxiety and stress. They involve the following graduated stages of a personal inventory that moves toward being solution driven:

1. Chunking : breaking bigger problems into smaller parts,

2. Ignoring mental chatter: mindfulness,

3. Reality check : reducing catastrophization,

4. Control check : accepting factors outside of one’s control,

5. and focusing on the ones that are within one’s control, and

6. Attentional shift : training oneself to focus on solutions.


Mattingly (2018) a critical study that examines the growing application of EI in the workplace. The author’s note that there are currently 200 different companies offering EI consulting and that over 75 % of all Fortune 500 corporations have used EI products. As such, it warrants a careful analysis to test whether this ‘theory’ can be trained given that there are already large amounts of resources dedicated to the practice. It is a met analysis that analyzed 56 different academic studies on EI training, and the two main conclusions are that there is a measurable impact but that further research is required to better understand the nuances of the practice to better focus what variables and elements of this are responsible for its outcomes. Largely, the experiments analyzed focused mostly on improvements in recognized in individuals who have undergone EI training.

This is important because it is a succinct issue from whether EI training and its application in the workplace has a measurable impact on productivity or outcomes/bottom-line. In terms of future research, the study also examined how EI is measured and compared the various forms of metrics and standard tests used to examine its value (see: APPENDIX ONE). This is useful for future research because these measures can be applied to novel studies that can use these pre-existing studies for baseline comparisons. The application of these type of EI measures can be combined with an analysis of performance outcomes.

That is, where EI is measurably improved, is there a corresponding improvement in productivity — both for the individual who has had EI training but also, where benchmarks are understood or performance measures can evaluate how managers with higher EI capabilities can engineer job performance success among workers. The study identified a number of problems with existing research and these issues mostly concern methodological limitations such as demographic problems (far too many males and not enough overall diversity: culture, age and gender); limitations in the “lag” (Mattingly 2018 7) between training and the effects of its measure; the limited number of test subjects, and also the difficulty with the measures themselves in terms of both how they compare with one another and the lack of enough studies that have applied or used them. All of these methodological or empirical considerations are supported by other sources (see: Bazzano, 2014; Lindenbaum, 2014; Ghadiri, 2012; Landy, 2005).

All four studies point to the limitations brought about by the relative maturity of the neuroscience that it is constructed upon, and more importantly, the lack of controlled studies that evaluate the application of EI as a strategic management agenda. The key question that is not asked from a management sciences perspective, is how effective an impact does this have on the bottom line?

Hyland (2015) also points to the application of the techniques of mindfulness based interventions and emotional intelligence improvement techniques. To date, one of the most significant factors that impedes the advancement in our understanding the impact, is the relative cost of implementing and studying it in the workplace. Hyland points to a number of positive outcomes with a variety of controlled research studies, but looks at some of the fundamental philosophical problems that will continue to inhibit the application of these strategies in social environments. By philosophical, he refers to the problem of defining the self in a first instance and also, the problem of other minds. As a philosophical problem, the self is difficult to define because it is a regressive problem. MBMS all use an awareness stage as an essential starting point.

It can be said that because it is a perceptual process that goes first, it is the first stage of a mindfulness practice. The problem area of the self, is the consideration of the self who is being aware. If one is self instrospecting, they are in a process of defining aspects of themselves alongside the experiences they are having or perceiving. However, it is difficult to define that which is having the experiences as it is a circular paradox. To know one self is to be in a situation where one is caught between the difference between the self that knows and the self that is known. This is an incompleteness problem that only means that there will always be a problem with a fixed notion of a person.

How we think about ourselves, is filtered through the language, customs, community and knowledge systems of those groups. One cannot define their own individuality without using the language and ideas of the culture and family that they were raised. Under most circumstances, we think of ourselves as individuals with a number of characteristics and qualities that define specifically who we are. However, the notion of identity and the uniqueness can be challenged or questioned, the moment that one recognizes that all kinds of other individuals use those very same terms or ideas as well. Hyland’s work points to the problems that are particular to many of the spiritual adaptations of mindfulness practices in business, and arguing further that effective training methods that do demonstrate improvements are complex and involved. One of the problems that Pillay (2014) identified in Rock (2011), were some unquestioned notions of personal identity. Pillay addresses these by looking and psychological social development and its impact on our brain and behaviours. Hyland takes the problem of identity a step further by demonstrating that there is a significance difference in how this information is received depending on the individual who is bringing a different set of values and experiences to the practice. These differences are identified as essentially problems of the self and the problem of defining self-knowledge itself. In controlled studies, how individuals define themselves and their own values have proven to limit the overall effectiveness of mindfulness based training (Hoffmann, 2018; Huang, 2017; Kabit-Zinn, 2015; Kane, 2018).

For both the understanding and the application of the neuroscientific principles of mindfulness, the work of Daniel J. Siegel is regarded as pioneering and cutting edge. Siegel’s background is in developmental psychology and he is the general editor of the ‘Norton Series on Social Neurobiology’. As a field of study, there is a consensus that this approach essentially resolves the nature versus nurture debate.

It is not nature that makes us who we are (genetics and evolution), and it is not nurture (social development) that define us. It is both. Brain growth and function is inseparable from how we emotionally and cognitively develop. One of the important areas of recent neuroscience that is revolutionizing how we look at this environment/biological relationship, is the area known as epigenetics. ‘Epi’ means above or beyond. Every single cell in the human body has our genetic code or Deoxyribonucleic acid… (DNA). DNA is like a blueprint that tells the cell how to function and how to replicate itself. Every cell also has RNA (mRNA).

This is the code that defines how the enzymes of a cell, aid in the expression of DNA. A transformation occurs whereby a genotype becomes a phenotype and the phenotype is the external manifestation of the code contained in a genotype. Twin studies are an important example of the impact on environment. Because twins both have the same DNA, it would follow that all genetically based diseases ought to be likewise shared in common, but this is not the case.

Prader-Willi syndrome and Angelman syndrome are both congenital genetic disorders and twin studies demonstrate how one of the pair can become inflicted while the other does not. Likewise, cancer’s themselves are increasingly being recognized as epigenetic. For example, a revolutionary finding about lung cancer has found that it is tar that will trigger the mRNA of a particular gene that some individuals have and some don’t, and this epigenetic difference explains why some individuals who smoke will get lung cancer and and why some individuals will not. The gene is triggered by the tar of a cigarette.

Siegel also emphasizes the inter-generational nature of epigenetics and one important area of this is inherited trauma and the stress response system. To illustrate how this occurs, an important mouse study is often cited. In a rodent experiment that has been replicated, researchers created a situation where a mouse is subjected to a pain stimulus (electric shock) combined with a novel smell. Every time the mouse is exposed to the novel smell, they are shocked by electricity. Under normal circumstances of social conditioning, the result becomes a state where even without the shock the mouse becomes stressed when it is exposed to the novel smell.

A stress memory reaction becomes the conditioned smell. What is significant, is that the smell is a novel one. It was designed in a lab, and designed such that it was tested so that it did not impact mice or cause stress in any way. Therefore, a control was set in place so that the novel smell was only stressful under circumstances where the shock was also conditioned. The remarkable finding of this study was that the offspring were stressed by the very same smell. With the immediate children of the mouse, a degree of stress was found when they were exposed to the novel smell. Important, is that the smell is not anything a mouse has ever experienced so there is no particular memory of the smell as it was designed in the lab. Second, it is important that no shock treatments were given to the offspring of the mother.

There is no association that was made between the smell and an applied stressor. What this mouse experiment demonstrates, is how inter-generational trauma can occur. That is, how a child can inherit the stress memories of its mother, however, very critically only when they are exposed to the same stimulus. When the smell occurs, particular genes are expressed and this does not happen with other mice. For Siegel, epigenetics is one of the cornerstones of the emerging area of social neurobiology and it is one of the very strong factors that explains why nature and nurture are false opposites and why we cannot think about one without the other. In some environments, some individuals will have some DNA expressed that might not occur without that environment. Significantly, one of these is an overly active or sensitive HPAaxis. An individual might not necessarily inherit the stress and anxiety of their parent, however, where the same triggers (e.g. stressful home environment) particular genes will become expressed.

A second critical area of in the emerging area of social neurobiology, is influence of ‘attachment theory’ on brain development but also personality and emotional resilience. Siegel explains attachment theory through an important experiment that has now been replicated thousands of times and across a wide range of cultures and therefore, diverging parenting styles. Attachment theory can be explained with the theory of child development that was pioneered by Bowlby and then tested by one of his students (Mary Ainsworth). The theory maintains that through social development, a child will form an attachment to their caregiver than be characterized as secure, avoidant, anxious or disorganized. Roughly speaking, half of all adults have secure attachment behaviours. In an experiment known as the ‘Strange Situation’ designed by Mary Ainsworth, child is placed in a playroom with its mother and at a point in time when the child is securely interacting with the mother, a stranger will enter and remain calmly at the side.

When it appears that the child is secure enough, then the mother will leave. What happens at this point is significant. A secure child will approach the stranger as though it is the same as its mother. It will assume that the stranger will be responsive and carries a confident expectation that the stranger has all of the same qualities as the mother they know. However, some children will appear anxious with the stranger, some will avoid the stranger and some will observably avoid and/or become anxious (disorganized attachment style). Finally, when the mother returns, these same responses will be repeated — a secure child will return to the mother, whereas anxious or avoidant children will show ambivalence, hesitation and might completely ignore the returning mother.

This study has been repeated and replicated thousands of times, and what is important is that it is an important dimension in the development of the social brain. Further, it explains both the need for emotional regulation but also, the problem with trying to effectively teach it. In keeping with the important connection with brain development, anxious and avoidant children actually have different brains.

The form of environmental conditioning that fosters security or insecurity, impacts how the brain is developed. For example, children who experience a high degree of stress, trauma or an unresponsive parent will produce more cortisol in their brains as a stress response, and this neurochemical has been implicated in growth problems with both the amygdala and the hippocampus as well as poor development of the vagus nerve. All of these three deficiencies impact emotional regulation, and one of the paradigms that Siegel’s work aims toward, is creating the secure and regulated individual. One of the reasons this particular difference is raised, is because it has implications in terms of how mindfulness or EI based training is received. For instance, anxious individuals will have more challenges in making this impacful whereas secure individuals are already physiologically better able to manage stress.

The emphasis on the unevenness of the application, means that not all individuals will benefit equally but further, they might have problems raised by the practice itself. Siegel emphasizes the effectiveness of these practices for dealing with stress, and he has designed one of the most comprehensive studies by the US Military in order to combat the growing problems and costs caused by PTSD among war veterans. However, one of the problems with applying these techniques in the workplace, are the unanticipated consequences that can emerge when a trained individual encounters an overwhelming amount of trauma related memories. Mindfulness practices are effective with trauma because there is an identified releasing effect of memories. In the workplace, this can be a phenomenon that is not only undesirable but it is also unethical.

Attachment theory goes far toward explaining the neuroscience of individual differences, but it also points to the importance and significance of the limitations. Individuals will not respond to this uniformly, and that is just a matter of neurological differences and further, they may develop a negative response altogether. One of the benefits of Siegel’s strategy, is that it anticipates these differences and seeks to have a value neutral approach. That is, an approach that is so general that it tries to avoid some of the more personal and subjective areas that will result in different degrees of success and failure.



There are sufficient studies and statistical significance to hold that mindfulness based practices and the cultivation of EI, have an impact in terms of improving cognition, focus/concentration, memory and the reduction of stress. Moreover, the reduction of stress leads to further physical benefits such as lower blood pressure and other factors and variables. Importantly, this study has examined how the statistical efficacy of these practices is supported with another key pillar of scientific methodology and that is etiology.

Etiology means the causal explanation. That these practices can be replicated and repeated, and that they can be explained by neuroscience, means that they are scientifically sound and for this reason, they are becoming widely adopted in organizations. This literature review has demonstrated that while these practices have been successfully adopted and measured with regard to personal and individual improvements, there is not a sufficient amount of information/data regarding the performance outcomes of their adoption. We can easily infer that the basic benefits to an individual can be applied anywhere including the workplace. However, this is an ‘inference’ or an ‘assumption’ that has so far gone untested.

More research needs to be developed to measure the impact on productivity in the workplace. Benchmarks can be created such that performance measures aligned with the type of good or service can be made with the prior establishment of a bench-line and controlled groups. For example, looking at the performance of one group who received training against a group that does not means that a blind study is easy to control for. Further, this literature review also evaluated the causal explanation for the success of mindfulness and EI based strategies. One fact that is clear, is that there are important limitations to how the success of these are explained but also, how training and the cultural backgrounds of individuals significantly impact the effectiveness. In particular, this study has shown that subjective values impact how individuals define themselves.

When the issue of self-awareness is used in mindfulness practices and EI development, it cannot be assumed that the ‘self’ being aware is uniform across populations. The values and lived experiences of individuals, along with basic demographic differences all impact individuals in terms of how they perceive and define themselves but more so, how they abstractly will define what constitutes a self. Further, these higher cognitive or prefrontal and frontal parts of the brain that are involved with self-awareness, are problematic. The model of the mind that is grounded in contemporary neuroscience depends heavily on the data collected through MRI and fMRI research, and one of the key problems about this as applied to neuroscience, is the inconclusive evidence. As cited in this study, a very large group of MRI studies were examined and only 30 % of these were successfully duplicated. Like the problem of how individuals define themselves, how we understand the higher cognitive processes (thinking, awareness, communication) is not at a point of maturity such that an uncritical adoption of this in the workplace is likewise premature.

In turn, where the effectiveness does have measured success along with explanatory/etiological power, is within the bottom up system more than the top-down system. Therefore, research needs to be conducted that limits the amount of measure and training implicated in these higher brain processes. In turn, research should focus on the simplest forms of mindfulness techniques that are culturally or value neutral and easily trained. One of the further limitations of the study of these techniques is the cost and involvement. Dow Chemical for example, committed $ 60 million dollars to the study of the effectiveness of mindfulness in the workplace, and this study shows the cost of evaluating the science of it in the workplace(Aikens, 2014).

The cost and complexity means that very simple techniques should be explored and tested, and these techniques should build on what is conclusively known about the neuroscience that explains it rather than focus on those areas of the brain that require more evidence such that there is a greater scientific consensus.



APPENDIX ONE: Abbreviations

MBMS – Mindfulness Based Management Strategies

BOLD – Blood Oxygen Level Dependency

EI – Emotional Intelligence

HPAaxis – Hypothalamus-pituatary-adrenal axis

MRI & fMRI – magnetic-resonance-imaging and functional magnetic-resonance-imaging


AEQT = Adult Emotional Quotient Test.

ECI-1 = Emotional Competence Inventory-2

EISDI = EI Self-Description Inventory

EDEIS = Exploring and Developing EI Skills

EIQ = Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire

ERSQ = Emotional Regulation Skills Questionnaire

ESQ = Emotional Situations Questionnaire

MEIS = Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale

MSCEIT = Mayer-Salovey-Caruso EI Test

SEIS=Shutte Emotional Intelligence Scale

SUEIT = Swinburne University EI Test

TEIQ = Trait-EI Questionnaire

WEII=Weisinger’s EI Instrument

WEIP=Workgroup EI Profile-Short Version