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Inclusion Column

Our Brain Seeks for Inclusion

By Victoria Torres

As we know, humans are born as social beings, naturally oriented to each other. Survival in past years was based on cooperation and protection of tribes. It's easy to observe humans interacting with each other: the talking, body language, expressions. What's even more interesting is understanding all the wiring and interbrain synchrony that happens during these interactions. Family, friends and colleagues shape our thoughts, behavior, feelings and neural activity in many ways. Neuroscience has helped us to understand more about the social brain which makes us aware about the effects of our interpersonal well-being.

Finding a group of people with whom we synchronize and make real connections is rewarding for our health, soul and brains. On the opposite, not fitting in becomes a threat for the human brain. Consequently people that feel excluded feel like running away for safety.

Here is a simple explanation about how our brain responds in these two situations:  

Belonging:  Sensory input + Amygdala (interpreting emotions) + prefrontal cortex (regulating emotions) = balanced response

Not a sense of belonging (threat): Sensory input + Amygdala=  unbalanced response
Unbalanced response= negative actions (depression, revenge)

A sense of belonging has an impact on important decisions that have to do with other individuals. Understanding our brains’ natural tendency to belong can lead us to be more conscious about inclusion.

Having an inclusion mindset has to do with creating safe environments for people to feel comfortable and welcomed. It doesn't mean that we have to like everyone, it means respecting others and being empathetic. Recalling how we have a great effect on others' brains (and vice versa) by validating their emotions makes us more responsible about inclusion.

Eye contact, smiling, approaching, having a conversation, really involving someone are small actions that can make a huge difference for that someone, starting in the brain, where it all takes place. It's thinking that we could be that person (or that we have all been) and taking action to best support connections in life.

As adults, the need to belong is vital and constant. Now, imagine children or adolescents, who are still learning how to manage their thoughts and reactions, who are still finding their place in the world, whose prefrontal cortex hasn't fully been developed. Support and strategies to control their brain responses based on their emotions, in situations in which they might not feel like fitting in and guidance in treating others with care and empathy make a huge impact for their present and future interpersonal relationships; for their shaping-brain!  

The best way to teach others is setting the example. The best way to belong is by lifting others.