How Do Positive And Negative Interactions Change Your Brain?

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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Research has shown that positive and negative interactions have powerful and distinct impacts on brain chemistry. Harvard Business Review recently published an article on the neurochemistry of positive conversations. The research looked at what happens in a person’s brain following positive and negative interactions.

Following negative interactions, levels of cortisol spiked and stayed elevated for over 24 hours.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that serves to shut down the thinking center of the brain and activate conflict-aversion and protection behaviors.

Following positive interactions researchers discovered elevated levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that contributes to positive emotions, trust, and collaboration.

Oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, however, so it’s effects did not last as long. Maybe this is why it’s commonly said that it takes nine positive comments to counter one negative comment.

Examples of positive interactions in the study included:

  • showing concern for others
  • showing curiosity
  • being open to difficult conversations

Examples of negative interactions included:

  • not trusting someone’s intentions
  • pretending to listen
  • being focused on convincing others. 

Behaviors that increase cortisol levels reduce Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ), lowering a person’s ability to think clearly, empathetically, creatively and strategically. Behaviors that spark oxytocin, by contrast, raise C-IQ and can lead to higher morale, satisfaction, and productivity.

The chemistry of conversations illustrates why it’s so critical for each of us, especially leaders, to be mindful about the nature of our interactions, regardless of the topic being discussed.


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