Men and Women: Our Brains Really Are Wired Differently

Men from Mars, Women from Venus?

Men from Mars, Women from Venus?

Does it make you uncomfortable to think that there really are biological differences in the brains of men and women?  Not me; I’ve seen those differences play out over a lifetime in precisely the ways suggested by a new study  published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.        Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered many more neural connections running from the front of the brain to the back within each hemisphere in males, while in females there are far more connections running left and right across the two hemispheres.

According to lead investigator Ragini Verma, Ph.D.,   the wiring in men supports greater connectivity between sense perceptions and coordinated actions.  In contrast, female wiring patterns facilitate greater connectivity  between analytical and intuitive capabilities. “These maps show us a stark difference–and complementarity–in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” the researchers concluded.

For instance, they report that  on average, men tend to be better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women tend to display superior memory and social cognition skills, making them on average better equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group.Male and Female Brain Wiring

Why do studies like this matter?  Sure, sex discrimination in the workplace remains real and limits income and upward mobility for too many talented women. But don’t we now see enough women of power and accomplishment in business, industry, education, the professions, and government that we may be ready to celebrate and make good use of our differences rather than insisting on biological sameness as necessary  foundation for sexual equality?

Might these differences also have implications for the work of conflict resolution professionals?  I’m not suggesting sexual stereotyping, but  we’ve now got hard science to support our intuitions about  how  clients process information.  Since these  gender-based brain differences are real, I’m suggesting that awareness of the differences might be a tool that could help us quickly figure out what’s going on during negotiations and how we might help.

Consider that the  “homework assignments” we give clients to prepare for negotiating sessions can serve more than one purpose.  There is specific information we need them to gather that is an essential foundation for bargaining toward settlement.  At the same time, we may be able to help emotionally overloaded clients to calm down and feel more competent if we make sure that the  homework we give them includes tasks that play to their strong suit, whether it’s drilling down on a specific problem and solution, or whether it’s intuitively imagining what the human needs and challenges might be in connection with various options for resolution.

What do you think?  Are these biological differences in the architecture of male and female human brains a useful perspective for illuminating how our emotionally-distressed clients–or even our professional colleagues– may be approaching problem solving?

 

 

Program for Certifying Integrative Lawyers Announced by Integrative Law Institute

PROGRAM FOR CERTIFICATION IN INTEGRATIVE LAW

Certification in Integrative Law

ILI’s program for certifying integrative lawyers has two purposes:

  • to encourage and recognize lawyers who engage in significant continuing education study aimed at developing the skills and understandings that support practicing law as a healing profession, and
  • to provide a means for members of the public to locate and identify lawyers who are committed to providing professional services  that address human conflicts constructively, not solely as legal problems but also across the  many other dimensions in which conflict impacts lives.

The core of the certification program is ILI’s own workshops and programs for practicing lawyers.  The hallmark of ILI programs is that they integrate creative conflict resolution tools, traditional understandings and practices, and emerging research discoveries from the biological and social sciences in a manner that lawyers, mediators, and judicial officers can use right away in their work.  ILI’s workshops and trainings include hands-on experiential components wherever possible.

Applicants for ILI certification will be asked to provide documentation of at least 40 hours of continuing education course work consisting of at least 25 hours of  workshops and trainings provided by ILI, with the balance consisting of approved courses provided either by ILI or by its partner organizations and colleagues.

Lawyers who have earned ILI’s certification in integrative law will be listed on ILI’s website and social media sites with links back to their own websites, and will be permitted to display ILI’s certification badge on websites, social media sites, and on professional materials.  Under development is a plan to provide Certified Integrative Lawyers with an online participatory virtual community.

The certification program, some components of which are still under development, is  being launched in phases beginning in early 2013,  so that participants in current ILI workshops  who have interest in certification can be aware of this option as they plan their ongoing continuing education.

 Earning Certification Credits

For 2013, continuing education credits as follows may be submitted for purposes of certification.  New  ILI courses and a limited number of select additional continuing education partners will be added to this list from time to time. The courses will be offered in major U.S. cities during 2013 and 2014.  By 2014, ILI also expects to offer some courses online.

Invitations to bring any ILI program to your city are welcome, as are program co-sponsorships.

ILI workshops and courses (as of January 2013)

Pauline Tesler Presenting at Integrative Law Workshop


  • Law and the Human Brain: Neuro-Literacy 101 for Lawyers, Mediators, and Judges. A complete description of this course is available at  http://is.gd/NeuroLiteracy101 (6 hours)
  • Money, Law, and Values. An investigation of how money, law, and values intersect and sometimes collide in legal negotiations, and an exploration of pathways through the challenges.  The workshop is described in more depth  at  http://is.gd/MoneyLawValuesWorkshop  (6 hours)
  • Weekend Workshop:  Becoming an Integrative Lawyer.  (Attendance at a weekend workshop is required for certification.)  This is a  highly personalized workshop with limited enrollment, offered in a variety of peaceful locations convenient to major cities. Included in the workshop is  facilitated personal self-reflection and strategic planning for achieving a law practice that supports working as an integrative lawyer.  The workshop curriculum  provides an overview and introduction to integrative law vectors, including: therapeutic/integrative jurisprudence and ethics, communications, narrative and re-storying techniques, body-mind awareness practices and tools, human needs theory, positive psychology,  negotiations theory,  systems theory and team practice,  behavioral and neuro-economics perspectives, collaborative practice, apology/forgiveness,restorative justice, integrative and values-based transactional practice, interest-based negotiations.  The fee for the workshop includes one hour of follow-up individual practice development consultation with Pauline Tesler, either via video conferencing or in person.  (15 to 18 hours)

Continuing Education Partners (as of January 2013)

  Lawyers may submit for certification purposes proof of in-person attendance at approved continuing education courses offered by these organizations and individuals.  Ordinarily, courses submitted for certification must carry  either state bar approved continuing legal education credit, or alternatively,  APA, state, or similar approved  CEU credit intended for other professions, such as psychologists, psychotherapists, or health care professionals.  Courses offered by ILI partners that do not carry such approved credit or that are attended online will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

ILI welcomes certification partnership inquiries from workshop leaders, trainers, and organizations that provide high quality continuing education in the vectors recognized by ILI for integrative law certification.  We consider for certification partnership programs that offer substantial original material developed by the presenter.

To be included in ILI’s mailing list, click here:   For more information, contact Pauline Tesler:  phtesler@integrativelawinstitute.org

Physical Health May be At Risk When Legal Conflict Resolution Settlements Create “Haves” and “Have Not’s”

I often use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a tool in my conflict resolution courses and workshops for lawyers.  It posits that before anyone can attend to higher-level needs such as love, belonging, esteem, and realizing dreams, the lower level needs (survival needs like food, shelter, clothing, followed by safety) have to be satisfied.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

When we negotiate settlement agreements on behalf of clients in relational disputes (e.g. divorce, will contests, small business dissolutions) whose lower-level needs are adequately met by any reasonable measure, it can sometimes be perplexing for lawyers to appreciate the degree to which some  clients focus not on the sufficiency of their own resources but on the gap between what they will end up with as compared to the other party or parties in the dispute.

A recent article in the New Scientist explains how health and relative wealth may be directly linked in unexpected ways.

Thomas McDade, a biological anthropologist at Northwestern University and director of Cells to Society at the Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research in Evanston, Illinois, says that additional research [shows]. . .” that even if you have a stable job and a middle-class income, then your health is not as good as that of someone who is in the 1 per cent. There is something more fundamental about social stratification that matters to health and the quality of social relationships.”

The issues of relative poverty are more nuanced than meeting basic needs for food and shelter. A hundred years ago it might have been whether you could afford to eat meat once a week – or have an indoor toilet. Today it might be whether you can afford to mark your child’s birthday with a party, Marmot  [Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London specialising in the health effects of inequality] says. “It matters because of what it means: can I participate in society?”

The great divide

Relative poverty goes hand in hand with inequality. “What we find is that the bigger the inequalities, income, educational, social, in a whole variety of ways, the bigger the health inequalities,” Marmot says.

The key is that having less than your peers seems to generate stress, at least at the level of large groups. And many studies over decades draw a straight line between stress and disease.

“How does having less relative to your peers undermine health? Study after study identifies the culprit as stress. Not day-to-day fretting, but persistent psychological and physiological reactions to external threats that cannot necessarily be addressed or avoided. Much of this research focuses on those living in impoverished communities, but these associations only diminish by degree as you ascend the economic ranks of a society. “Socioeconomic status, and social stratification in particular, is a very powerful determinant of health – for populations and for individuals,” says McDade.

Toxic stress

Unrelenting stress is toxic because it can turn the body’s defence system against itself. Neuroendocrinologist Bruce McEwen at Rockefeller University in New York says the stress response that evolved to protect us from harm can be hijacked and actually cause harm when the stress never abates. In a normal situation, the introduction of stress causes the body to deliver a boost of energy – by sending a surge of glucose to the muscles – and to increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing to get oxygen to the muscles in a hurry. At the same time, blood vessels constrict and clotting factors increase – ready to slow bleeding in case you are wounded. These responses are part of a fight-or-flight survival kit, and once the stress has passed, these should subside.

But for people under unremitting stress, this response never quite switches off – leaving sugar levels unregulated, high blood pressure, increased risk of blood clots, depressed sex drive and an immune system buckling under the strain. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can have other effects as well, including affecting the brain by altering the structure of neurons and their connections, which in turn can influence behaviour and change hormonal processes.”

 

How can we apply these ideas to conflict resolution work?

What applies at the macro level may well apply also at the  level of individuals in their families and communities and in the negotiating room.  These ideas are worth thinking about as a tool for educating parties to a conflict about interests that may live below awareness but nonetheless are in the room affecting the negotiating process.  Surfacing the issue certainly won’t worsen the problem, and may help parties to hear one another more empathically.

Powerful People Believe Everyone–Except Themselves–Should Follow Rules

Which one feels more powerful?

A recent study explored the impact of having power–or even thinking for a moment about power–on moral judgements.  Power causes  people to be much more likely to advocate for moral judgments based upon following the rules.  In contrast, people primed to think about or experience powerlessness  are much likelier to make situational moral judgments that aim at accomplishing the right outcome,  even if the means flout clear rules.

Jorris Lammers and his colleagues presented volunteers with sharp moral dilemmas, and asked them to decide the right course of conduct.  Should police interrogators falsely tell an admitted kidnapper that a world expert in use of torture (a prohibited interrogation method) was en route via helicopter to force disclosure of where the kidnapped young boy was being hidden?  Should doctors who knew a young man had only six months to live because of an incurable, fatal illness hide the diagnosis from him, as requested by his girlfriend but prohibited by applicable ethical rules, long enough for the young man to enjoy a forthcoming and long-anticipated vacation with  her?

Probing the impact of power on people’s moral thinking, the researchers assigned two conditions to the volunteers.  One group was primed with words associated with being powerful, or put in an experimental situation in which they were given power over others, while the second group was primed with words relating to powerlessness, or put in experimental situations in which others had power over them.  The powerful group was far more likely to insist that the rules must be followed.  The powerless group was far more likely to decide that the desirable end justified the impermissible means.

So are people more likely to act according to the rules if they are in positions of power?

Yes, unless it’s their own ox that is being gored.

Lammers’ group then asked both the “power-primed” and the “powerless-primed” groups to read a short narrative and decide whether it was OK for an impoverished apartment-seeker to jump a three-year waiting list for subsidized public housing by using a trick that would place him or her at the front of the queue. Again, those randomly assigned to the power condition were much likelier to disapprove of breaking the rules than those assigned to the powerless condition.

But this time, the study included a tricky wrinkle.  Half of each group read the narrative in the third person, while the other half of each group read the story in the first person, as follows:

“Suppose you are looking for a new apartment after your landlord has terminated the tenancy. However, the only affordable option is public housing, for which there is a three-year waiting list. There is however a trick that allows you to bypass the waiting list and immediately obtain a house.”

The impact of self interest was startling:  if the story was seen as about themselves, the effects of power on moral judgment were reversed.  Those in power were much less likely to insist that the rules should be applied to themselves, while those who were powerless were much more likely to insist that the rules must be followed if they envisioned themselves actually placed in the moral dilemma.

According to Irish neuroscientist Ian H. Robertson, “Power has strong neurological effects on the brain and one of them is that power fosters moral exceptionalism, where rules are applied strenuously to other people. . .but the {same people}. . . feel themselves excepted from equivalent rules governing their conduct.”

Why this insight matters in conflict resolution practice:

When lawyers handle legal conflicts that arise out of an important but  fractured human relationship (think: divorce, will contests, small partnership dissolutions, family business disputes) it’s common for existing or perceived power dynamics in the relationship to become magnified during litigation and settlement negotiations.

Experienced lawyers know that the designated or self-designated powerless party may carry an exaggerated notion of the other party’s ability to dominate negotiations.  Such perceptions may feed reactive, fear-based choices of aggressive legal counsel as well as flooding of “fight-or flight” emotions during key events in the dispute resolution process, whether in court or at the negotiating table.

This research adds a more complex dimension to power dynamics at the negotiating table.  Collaborative law and other interest-based settlement modalities depend on transparency and good faith negotiating practices.  Could it be that in disputes between parties who display  significant power disparities, the more powerful party may be more susceptible to bending the rules for personal advantage than the process permits?  Could it be that the more powerful lawyer at the table may do the same?

Conversely, might the more powerless party be likelier to cherry-pick, insisting on legal rights and entitlements when the rules benefit him/her, while advocating for outcome-based solutions when the rules benefit the other party?

We don’t have firm answers to these questions, but the study should cause us to ask: What tools and techniques could we devise that might re-weight the  moral scales back toward transparency, clarity, and a level playing field?

We might begin by doing a little neuro-education, adapting Lammers’ study with moral dilemmas more closely related to legal negotiations, and presenting our clients with those  moral dilemmas when we prepare them for negotiating sessions.  If we sensitize ourselves and our clients to the dynamics of power through education, we can name the problem and perhaps mitigate the impact.

And of course, we can make use of priming ourselves, to re-balance the scales.

Look for ILI courses in Neuro-Resolution to earn CLE credits while learning more about priming and other realities at the intersection of neuroscience and conflict resolution practice.

Ask your bar association to bring ILI’s Neuro-Resolution courses to your community.

The study is:   Lammers, Joris et al  (2009) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 279-289.  Robertson discusses this study in his forthcoming book:  The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain, to be released in  October by St Martin’s Press.

Integrative Law Institute Welcomes Leading Neuroscientists and Conflict Resolution Pioneers to Advisory Board

A strong, innovative Advisory Board helps ILI to build outstanding programming at the intersection of law, social policy, neuroscience, positive psychology, restorative justice, and other Integrative Law vectors. We are proud to announce the following new members of ILI’s Advisory Board:

It’s an honor to have the support of pioneering thinkers and researchers of this caliber.

We are inviting other leaders in fields relating to Integrative Law to join ILI’s Advisory Board this year and will announce new members from time to time.