Management And Accounting Web

Beard, A. 2017. The theory: "If you understand how the brain works, you can reach anyone. A conversation with biological anthropologist Helen Fisher. Harvard Business Review (March/April): 60-62.

Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

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This is a fairly short, but very interesting interview with Helen Fisher who is doing research on brain systems and personality styles. Although her research is being used as the basis for dating questionnaires, it is also being used for business applications at firms such as Delotte.

According to Fisher there are two parts to our personalities: culture, and temperament. Her research is about temperament which is related to our biology, genes, hormones, and neurotransmitters.

Fisher's theory is based on the idea that there are four biological systems that tend to explain human behavior. Each system has a scale or range from high to low. The four systems and the associated behavior include:

1. Dopamine/norepinephrine - people high in these traits are curious, creative, spontaneous, energetic, and mentally flexible.

2. Serotonin - high serotonin activity indicates a person that is more sociable, and more eager to belong.

3. Testosterone - people with a high level of testosterone are tough-minded, direct, decisive, skeptical, assertive and tend to be good at rule-based systems such as mechanics and math.

4. Estrogen/oxytocin - people with high levels of these traits tend to be more intuitive, imaginative, trusting, empathetic, and long-term thinkers.

A questionnaire was developed to measure the four biological systems and administered to groups of people in two studies. One group included young couples and a second group included older couples. According to Fisher, these studies validated the theory. The point of administering her temperament questionnaire is this: "If you understand how to size up those around you, you can reach anyone - your clients, bosses, subordinates - far more effectively."

There is more discussion of other questionnaires such as the Myers-Briggs that measures four things: extroversion versus introversion, intuitive versus sensing, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving behaviors. This test and other personality tests put people in one category or another, but the brain does not work that way. Everyone is made up of a combination of traits.

She goes on to say that more effective teams include complementary styles of thinking. When organizations think about diversity they need to include diversity of mind, not just diversity in terms of race or gender.  When you understand where someone is in terms of each scale, you can begin to see their full personality.


Related web sites:

For more on Fisher's theory and how it is being used, see the following:

For dating:,

For dating and to take a personality test:

How the theory is being used in business:

Fisher's blog:

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