ESADE launches pioneering research using neuroscience

16 May 2012 | Network Updates

ESADE is the world's first Business School to embark upon pioneering scientific and academic research to find the attributes of a good leader through technology and neuroscience. The aim of the study, ‘Neuroscience of Leadership', is to discover how a leader's brain behaves when team decisions are made, the resulting degree of influence on group dynamics and the neurological differences in the choice of socially responsible or irresponsible solutions. Over the course of 15 days, ESADE will be mapping the brains of 160 MBA participants while they solve business cases involving ethical and responsible solutions.

The project, promoted by ESADE in collaboration with Arizona State University and technology supplied by ABM (Advanced Brain Monitoring), is taking advantage of recent advances in neuroscience to open new perspectives and provide new knowledge on leadership and how it is developed, with particular emphasis on socially responsible and inspiring group leaders.

The study, an initiative never undertaken before, will be carried out by a team of researchers from ESADE, led by professors from ESADE's Institute for Social Innovation, Thomas Maak and Nicola Pless, and researchers David Waldman and Pierre Balthazard from Arizona State University.

"The project has great potential for understanding and exploring the processes of leadership development, but it is also invaluable in terms of educating future leaders to behave ethically and responsibly," said ESADE researcher Thomas Maak.

Mapping out the brain of a leader

Wireless neuroscience technology has reached the point that it is capable of scanning the brains of a group of individuals – in sync – as they try to solve a problem together. As a result, it is now possible to figure out how brains work during team decision-making and obtain EEG data of how the brain behaves individually and in combination with others. "Being able to analyse neurobehavioural activity in a synchronised manner like this in a group is especially significant," says Maak, "because leadership should be studied as a process that takes place between individuals who interact in groups and not as a mere individual decision-making activity."

Among other things, the Neuroscience of Leadership project's goal is to decipher:

• If there are neurological phenomena associated with the teams that are able to behave particularly well regarding decisions that have an ethical dimension or if there is a neurological marker that differentiates between responsible and irresponsible decisions.

• If patterns in group dynamics can be identified, neurological markers that indicate when a group is really committed and in tune or, on the other hand, is a group that is not all that united or integrated.

• If the leadership processes are especially effective when decisions are made together.

• The neurological dynamics that are developed in a group.

• How the leader manages to convince people to follow him or recognise him as their leader.

Neuroscience technology in the classroom

During the data collection process through wireless ABM technology, 160 ESADE MBA students' brains will be monitored in the classroom. The MBA is organised into 33 teams of about 5 participants. The process takes about 3 hours and is split into three different parts. In the first part, students are asked to solve a problem of ethical responsibility in business on their own. After doing so, they will join their team and be connected to monitoring instruments that will be synchronised as a group. Now they will be asked to discuss the same case as before, reach a consensus, solve it as a team and provide a joint response. Once they are done, they will be interviewed individually about their experience and perceptions during team discussions and on how they believe the dynamics of leadership in their group have been developed.

Following the data collection process, the work will be analysed and we hope to have the first findings of the study before the year of the end.

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