What fundamentally distinguishes humans from other mammals, from a biological point of view, is our brain. Specifically, the evolution of the cerebral cortex, the upper part divided into two hemispheres with their familiar ridges and grooves.
Relative to our size, our cortex is much larger than that of other mammals, with an average of 86 billion neurons compared to 6.5 billion in a chimpanzee. If we had more neurons our capacities would increase exponentially. Since each neuron makes 10,000 connections or synapses, if we had ten times as many neurons, our intellectual and reasoning abilities would increase by 10 to the power of 10.
By the way, every billion neurons need an average intake of six calories a day to function properly, which adds up to 516 calories a day, which explains why we don’t work as well when we’re hungry or tired.
Humans use our neural capacity throughout our lives, producing synapses as a result of learning, experience, or the association of ideas and knowledge. Other mammals use their neural capacity to find food, defend themselves, and reproduce. That explains why mammals like bison walk from birth and soon learn how to feed. As we know, human babies are dependent on their parents until relatively old ages compared to other species, during which time they develop their intellectual capacity.
In light of this marvel of evolution, we can only wonder if the brains of those who come after us over the centuries will develop an intellectual capacity that we can barely glimpse. But, as things stand, it seems more likely that artificial intelligence and machine learning will out-evolve the human brain and perhaps become a more capable species than their own creators.
a biological question
In his 2019 book Conscience: the origins of moral intuition, American neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland discusses various aspects of typical mammalian behavior. For example, the behavior of meadow and mountain voles after calving. Voles, which are more social, secrete two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, which encourage protective and affectionate behavior towards their young. Mountain voles, which abandon their young after giving birth, do not secrete oxytocin or vasopressin. When the scientists injected several female montane vole with these hormones, they saw that they began to behave like their fellow prairie voles, showing more care and protection towards their young. They also did the same with male prairie and montane vole, which normally ignored their young, becoming more attached to them.
Experiments like these can prove the direct relationship between hormones, neuroreceptors, and behavior. Conducted in humans, they have yielded similar results. In short, it seems that there is a neurobiological reality of consciousness whereby different hormones secrete substances that make us feel pain in the face of rejection, joy at belonging to a group or the ability to feel shame and the meaning of reputation, along with the self control. Our conscience and sense of morality have a biological basis. Furthermore, our sense of attachment to a family or community has a biological basis in neuroreceptor hormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin.
Could human intelligence be directed?
There would be many possible applications for these discoveries, both in the business world and in social life. For example, let’s think about the use of psychopharmacology to enhance managerial skills and emotional intelligence, basic for leadership.
Will it be part of the value proposition of business schools, corporate universities and coaches from the future? Could it also be used to enhance the feeling of belonging and attachment to a particular organization? Think, for example, of pills that could enhance your leadership skills or improve commitment to your company.
One of the reasons for using psychopharmacology in this way is that attracting and retaining top talent is a top concern for hiring managers and, increasingly, CEOs, especially now with the phenomenon of the great resignation. Cultivating the biological sense of belonging to an organization can incentivize the best talent to continue being part of it.
Another would be that the sense of belonging to a company awakens a defensive instinct to protect the values and products of the organization, just as it happens in other smaller communities, such as the family. For example, Pepsi Co. executives avoid drinking Coca Cola (at least in public), and vice versa.
In addition, as anthropology shows, the sense of belonging also arouses a killer instinct towards competitors, particularly in highly competitive sectors, and more so now that trade wars between continents are back in fashion.
That same sense of belonging encourages the members of an organization to attract talent, as it often has a proselytizing effect, helping to attract those we consider to be the best. It’s like it happens within families: we want the best partners for our children.
If there is a biological basis for the sense of identification and belonging explained by Churchland and other neurobiologists, could initiatives be opened to foster this feeling among the workforce? Or does that sound too Orwellian?
Another reason is what we might call bioenhancement through the use of psychopharmacology. We might wonder if taking hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin would necessarily make us more ethical.
Imagine if a few years from now, these hormones were available without side effects. Would I take them? Presumably only if he already had a strong sense of identification with your company. At the same time, if this drug were available to everyone, it would no longer offer a competitive advantage, but at least we would all go to work happier, drastically changing the results of the Gallup polls.
Now imagine that, instead of a popular and affordable drug, a reputable company offers a one-year, high-priced, one-time treatment to cultivate these hormones in the body, developing sociability, empathy and a sense of belonging, and therefore Of course, without any side effects.
Your company, a leader in its sector and with a consolidated reputation, wants to provide its managers with the best preparation for professional success, as well as keep them motivated, and therefore decides to offer everyone that option. Would you accept this generous offer of self-improvement?
If there were no health risks, why would you have to turn it down? The end is good, as are the means. That being said, some people might object on the grounds that the treatment could alter their personality. However, we know that hormone treatment is widespread. Many take melatonin, a hormone that helps to relax and sleep better. There are women who take estrogen during and after menopause, and there are testosterone treatments to enhance hair growth. There are a large number of drugs that affect our hormones.
The potential of psychopharmacology is fascinating and could have transformative effects on our bodies and minds. If, as we’ve already seen, our brains aren’t going to organically evolve fast enough to keep up with technological and social change, why not turn to chemistry to make us more sociable and experience greater happiness?
As has happened before, fact will likely be stranger than fiction. Numerous science fiction novels are set in future worlds where advances in biology, medicine, and pharmacology make it possible to live forever, in addition to creating the conditions for a fairer, more empathetic, and happier society.
Improve group cohesion
Until effective pills or treatments arrive, the most obvious way to improve worker engagement is to create an organizational culture based on shared values and led by a management team with strong leadership.
Neurobiology teaches us that the families and tribes capable of attracting and retaining members are the winners, the most proactive, the ones that develop the strongest ties among their members. On the other hand, the losers, the isolated ones, those excluded from the group tend to generate rejection, and this also has a biological basis.
Offering education and lifelong learning cements loyalty to an organization. As we have seen, the bad news is that our brain has many physical and biological limitations; the good news is that it’s also incredibly flexible and can spawn new neurons over time. Some experiments have shown that study, the intensive exercise of our intellectual faculties, can facilitate the growth of neurons.
In addition, learning, acquiring new knowledge and developing new skills keeps our brain active and generates many more connections between neurons. Studying is like going to a mental gym. We all need to do it from time to time if we want to keep our minds in shape, just as we do our bodies.
A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.