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The future is here. Imagine that as I stand at my computer, tranquil music suddenly starts playing and later a buzzer sounds to keep me moving – whether I’m standing or sitting down.

Welcome to the world of neuromarketing. Neuromarketers study the brain’s responses to both marketing and advertising, and as reported in the London Times (June, 2018), have for some time been using facial coding software via webcams to read consumers’ expressions to learn their emotional reactions.

So it isn’t surprising to think that neuromarketing can be used in many arenas (i.e. the workplace), and surely with folks in recovery neuromarketing can help support significant areas of engagement.

It’s important to note that neuromarketing forms only one branch of neuroscience. Although embryonic neuroscience has been around since the 1950’s – and focuses on the study of the nervous system – neuromarketing is making waves in today’s fast-paced technological scene. As such, neuromarketing has the potential to impact addiction and recovery – my line of work.

We all know, for example, that when someone is addicted their brain is hijacked so to speak and that it alters their behavioral patterns and the way they relate to people, places and things. The same is true for folks who experience chronic pain syndrome (pain that lasts more than 90 days coupled with drug dependence), according to Pain Is Strange (Steve Haines).

Andre Vermeulen, an international expert in the neuroscience of learning and consultant to leadership and talent Full Potential Group, believes that it will become increasingly important as the so called “fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence (AI) take hold.” In his view, with respect to employees, job roles will shift and disappear and employees will need to explain more “neuro-agility” or the mental ability to adapt quickly to change. The same will go for the recovery world – families and their loved ones must learn to adapt and adjust to new ways of being.

With the coming changes, AI may be able to help all of us in a variety of ways to increase wellbeing. AI, for example, is good at pattern recognition – doing the same thing over and over. AI is no good at complex problem solving and that is where neuroscience comes in to help optimize our learning and creative recovery practices.

Neuroscience, however, helps individuals understand who they are and what they are designed for. When you get alignment between who someone is and what they bring with them (i.e. to treatment, to work, to life and to recovery) they understand their value and feel like they are in a position to express their individuality and make a difference. This means they are “naturally” engaged.

David Rock, Director of Neuroleadership Institute SCARF MODEL, describes 5 domains as being important for engagement as it relates to the study of neuroscience. We can see how these domains are equally important for addiction treatment and recovery. This research shows that high levels of engagement occur when people experience rewards from all 5 of these domains and that folks become disengaged when they experience high levels of threats.

  1. Status – our relative importance to another being seen and being valued by our peers as well as by others enhances self esteem.
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict what lies ahead. In recovery, one learns that if they continue to do the work (i.e. go to meetings, work with a counselor, engage in helpful relationships, be of service) life will be better and they will be present. Though there will be hiccups along the journey.
  3. Autonomy – being in control over events. Knowing that one has choices and flexibility in how they organize their day to day and life as a whole.
  4. Relatedness – a sense of connectedness and safety with others. Knowing that others respect you and will treat you fairly helps make one feel safe and secure. Self support groups of which there are hundreds in the world are based on that assumption.
  5. Fairness – a perception of fair exchange amongst people, not underhandedness. One may challenge their behavior as is often done in recovery, however, it is done with fairness and respect.

Taking a look at these 5 domains is helpful for those in the behavioral health field as they continue to meet the needs and the challenges of folks and their loved ones who experience the threats of disengagement which come from substance misuse and abuse. As a skilled interventionist and clinician, I am always looking for new ways to relate to and engage with my clients. Neuroscience may well pave the way for new treatment modalities.


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