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Context is Everything

Just a quick reminder today that whatever you read, take the source into account. 

  • Who wrote the piece?
  • What's their background?
  • Which culture are they from?
  • What are their personality type preferences?
  • What are the times they're living in?
  • What are the political and economic circumstances?

I'm trying to do this but know that I'm not all the time. Especially when I get my eyes on new, salient, sexy research that explains how people live, love, work, or play - I simply MUST remember that study participants are often American psychology students. 

Where do you get your information, and how often / rigorously do you question it? 



The SCARF® Model for Leadership - 3.0

Hello! Thanks for visiting and please enjoy the free info below! 

Just fyi, you can find me over at from now on, where I'm making custom lettering and calligraphy. 

This archive will be discontinued next month. 

PET scan, public domain, by Jens Langner

PET scan, public domain, by Jens Langner

In SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, David Rock presents findings from various social neuroscience studies. Two emerging themes stand out:

Firstly, that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward (Gordon, 2000). Secondly, that (…) social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food and water. (Lieberman and Eisenberger, 2008)

If you have time to read the whole piece, I recommend it.

In brief, the brain’s threat or “avoid” response results in increased levels of stress hormones like cortisol. When stressed, you are not able to think clearly, because the region of your brain that deals with executive functions like reasoning, linear processing, or even creative problem solving (pre-frontal cortex) doesn’t receive enough oxygen or glucose. Instead, you are more likely to generalize and play it safe (activating the amygdala, part of the older limbic brain structure also handling instinctive fight-or-flight responses).

The brain’s reward or “approach” response results in increased levels of happy hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. When rewarded, you feel engaged and motivated. You feel safe, joyful, and are more likely to see alternative options to problem solving and take risks.

The SCARF® model explains how the following five concepts affect our experiences with other people:

  • Status (how important are you compared to others)
  • Certainty (how well can you predict the future)
  • Autonomy (how much control do you have over certain events)
  • Relatedness (how safe and connected do you feel with others)
  • Fairness (how fair are your social interactions)

Rock explains that leaders can do the following things to reduce threat and increase reward for each aspect:

Adapted from David Rock's paper

Adapted from David Rock's paper

As with many other models or leadership frameworks, the limitation I see is that they were conceived and probably tested from a uniquely Western, if not even limited United States point-of-view.

Dr. David Rock and Christine Cox, Ph.D also published SCARF® in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. They propose using the model to evaluate emotional responses before, during, and after an event and added findings from more recent social neuroscience research. Some suggestions mention a cultural and personality-trait variations, e.g.

  • (…) the importance of status for an individual may be a basic personality trait and can influence social interactions even if he or she is not aware of it.
  • (…) Individual differences in various personality traits can also affect the way that people process and respond to uncertain and ambiguous situations.
  • (…) Across the globe, psychological prosperity (such as a sense of autonomy), as opposed to economic prosperity, better predicts feelings of well-being.
  • (…) It appears that the definition of in-group and out-group members is not limited to racial, ethnic, or political distinctions
  • (…) emotions are integral to judging fairness, and those judgments emerge over time through social experiences with others.

SCARF® "3.0"?

For the past five days, I’ve been blogging about the SCARF® model from a culture and personality Type perspective (note: trait and Type are not the same thing).

I propose to add future research studies to be controlled for – or at least take into consideration - these factors to give us a clearer understanding of how our brains work depending on Type and cultural environments.


Summary of my blog posts from the past 5 days

Summary of my blog posts from the past 5 days


How to Pay Less for More, or: Enjoy Your New Country


How to Pay Less for More, or: Enjoy Your New Country

On a recent Southwest flight, I found this little gem in the inflight magazine. Under the heading "Life Science" it says: "Research geek Garth Sundem interviewed 130 scientists for his new book, Brain Trust. Here, he translates their research into smart tips for everyday situations." I'm going to share this one with you, because it really resonated and I think there's a lesson for expats: How to Pay less for more

Expert: Paul Bloom, professor of psychology, Yale University; and the author of How Pleasure Works

Paul Bloom has found that the more information you have about something, the more valuable it becomes to you. For instance, most people assume that a $30 bottle of wine is better than an $8 bottle. But if you know something about the $8 botte - like you've visited the winery or you heard the year was a good one - its value increases to you personally. The same thing goes for travel: The more you know about the place you're visiting, the more you'll enjoy it. In other words, information can substitute for price. Rather than pay more, research more.

Have you done enough research on the new country you're moving to? Enough to get you excited and emotionally invested to make it successful, believing it will be possible and worthwhile? Feel free to share which resources you're using below in the comment section! :-)

Image by Penny Veitch, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



Type & Culture Research

expatsmbti-research-results_60_tableI'm looking for

adult expats, repats, international assignees, accompanying partners, students, retirees, love-pats, and anyone living and working for at least 12 months outside of their home culture to help me with research. If you are one of those people, and if you know your confirmed best-fit Myers-Briggs Type result, please help me by answering 5 quick questions. If you don't know your MBTI(r) Type, you'll find some options in the FAQ for how to get it.

The goal is

to set up a database with thousands of entries and explore a) how different nationalities express their different personality types, and b) how our personality type preferences influence our adaptation to other cultures.

Answer these 5 questions to add your voice.

Here's where we are so far: 60 respondents, 53 usable

Obviously, we need some more MEN and some more ISFJs, ISFPs, and ESFJs expats, so if you know anyone, please share this survey with them. Thanks!




I will continue to collect data until all types are equally well represented, and hold follow-up interviews with those who give me permission to contact them. I have 5 interviews completed and transcribed (cheers, guys!) four of which NT and one SJ, so I'll be looking for Temperament-related language as well. I'll be using the Grounded Theory method, i.e. doing a lot of comparison and coding of what the experiences may describe from a type perspective. I was accepted as a speaker at the 2013 Association for Psychological Type Conference in Miami and look forward to sharing an update there! Participants who share their email address will receive a copy of the presentation as a thank you for their time.

I can't do this without you. Thank you for your help.

Find the survey at  and please share with everyone you know who lives or has lived abroad and knows their Type.



Research FAQ

expats_MBTI overlay imagesWho can participate?

Any adults over 18 years of age who have in the past or are currently living abroad in one country that is not their country of origin or culture for a period of more than 12 months.

OK, that was one long sentence with lots of identifiers and no commas. In long form, I hope to hear from you if you are an expat on international assignment sent by your work, or if you are a partner or spouse who is accompanying an expat abroad (which makes you an expat as well, really), or if you left your country of birth or culture to live abroad for whatever other reason, e.g. to study, to retire, because you fell in love with someone, and you are open to sharing what the experience was like.

What's the purpose of this research, anyway?

I want to explore correlations between Type and cultural adaptation. How are the challenges often experienced in international relocation related to Type instead of cultural differences? How do different personality types prepare for relocation? Which tools and strategies do they use when presented with cultural differences? Is the need for belonging on Maslow's Hierarchy higher on the scale, e.g. for Extravert Feeling types?

Gaining more clarity about how Type influences our effectiveness abroad will help expats and their accompanying spouses save time and nerves when relocating. This research and its results can be put to good use by anyone who wants to move abroad and be prepared to face potential challenges head-on.

I would like to participate, but I don't know my Type. How can I find out my MBTI(r) result and how much does it cost?

The quickest way to get your MBTI(r) result is to fill in the MBTI(r) questionnaire. The result is a four-letter type, giving insight into the patterns of how you gain energy, take in information, make decisions, and organize your life and work. Completing the indicator takes 15-25 minutes and is followed by a ca. one hour conversation with a certified Type practitioner to confirm your preferences.

The MBTI(r) questionnaire and all its materials are under copyright by the Consultants Psychology Press, CPP. Costs for the material vary by the style of report and accompanying manual you choose. They can range from ca US$30 to US$65 per person.

In addition, every practitioner sets fees for the conversation to debrief and confirm the result. In case you're wondering about "bang for your buck," you can apply your Type knowledge to all areas of your life, including finding your strengths in a career transition, diversifying your leadership style, improving interpersonal communication, or finding new strategies to reduce stress, to name a few. In other words, I'll be looking at your Type through the culture lens, but once you know your Type, you can use it for many other benefits as well.

I am certified to facilitate both Step I and II, and here are the parameters for getting your MBTI(r) as part of participating in my research:

  1. Email me at doris(at)expatsmbti(dot)com, write "MBTI for Culture Research" in the headline. In the body of the email, tell me the country or culture you are from, the country or culture your minimum 12 months international experience is about, and any questions you might have for me.
  2. I'll contact you to answer your questions, and when you're comfortable to go ahead, I will send you an invoice for the MBTI(r) material you want to order. Only for participants in this research, I offer a personalized report, Introduction to Type manual, and one-hour debrief for US$114. This is a significantly reduced fee, because I appreciate your input and data for my study.
  3. Once your payment is received, I'll send you the login details and instructions to access the online questionnaire.
  4. Once you've completed the questionnaire, I receive a notification from CPP and gain access to your report materials.
  5.  You and I set up a time and date to go over the results, and talk some more about how your Type preferences may have influenced your international experience.

If you would like to work with someone else, you can search for practitioners in your area through the Master Practitioner Referral Network, or use the facilitation services provided by the Center for the Application of Psychological type CAPT.

What's a confirmed best-fit type?

There are plenty of free online versions of personality "tests" available on the internet. The MBTI(r) is not a test. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator(r) is the world's most trusted personality tool. It is supported by over 60 years of research into its validity and reliability. Filling out the questionnaire gives you one result, aka the first hypothesis. After going through a debrief and facilitation from a certified professional, you self-select which type fits you best, that's the second hypothesis. If the two don't match or if there are any doubts, the facilitator will guide you through a process of questions and behavior descriptions to confirm your type as best as possible, which is the best-fit result. Not every person gets a best-fit result in one sitting.

What do you mean by, "culture I call home?"

Given technological and transportation advances of the last 50 years, the world has become a much smaller place. People are mobile and many are flexible in their working arrangements. Think of traveling sales people, or service men and women in the army. It is not unusual to be stationed and transferred to many different countries with the course of one or two decades. If these are your first two decades, this leads to the TCK or Third Culture Kid phenomenon. In other words, it may be hard to say where you've spent the most time growing up if you moved every 2 years. Your passport may say German, but your parents are actually Italian and instilled those values in you. I'm looking for the culture you would most define as your own, your heart-home. Even if it's difficult to choose, I need a baseline to compare your host culture to.