Useful Psychological Theories and David Rock’s SCARF Model

Summary: If you want to win friends and influence people, treat them with Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

I use a lot of psychological models and theories to conceptualize my world. The ones I refer to most often are Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. Look them up, memorize them, use them. They are useful!

I just heard about the SCARF Model and I’m pretty excited about it (a model isn’t as generalized as a theory but can be useful nonetheless!)

The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 by David Rock, in his paper “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others.” SCARF stands for the five key “domains” that influence our behavior in social situations. These are:

  • Status — our relative importance to others.
  • Certainty — our ability to predict the future.
  • Autonomy — our sense of control over events.
  • Relatedness — how safe we feel with others.
  • Fairness — how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.

The model is based on neuroscience research that implies that these five social domains activate the same threat and reward responses in our brain that we rely on for physical survival. So, in brief, look at each of the domains above and think. For example, if a person places you in a lower status than you, that stress can easily trigger your fight-or-flight response (imagine a boss talking down to you). If they put you in a higher status, that can trigger your reward system (imagine getting an award). This works in more situations than you’d initially consider. And there’s lots to consider. If you want to win friends and influence people, treat them with status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.

Here is the original paper about the SCARF Model by David Rock

There’s many sites that talk about the SCARF Model in more depth, here’s a pretty good one.

update 7-29-20, I came across a random “How to influence people” post on Imgur and about 3/4 of the items are applied versions of the SCARF model, nice. (though admittedly, some of the tactics in this image are ethically questionable!)

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