Philosophy of the social brain at work

“The fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

~Bertrand Russel

“To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity.”
~Oscar Wilde

Theory of the mind refers to the distinction between what one thinks, intends or feels versus what others think, intend or feel (Premack & Woodruff, 1978).  It implies that others are governed by the same mental states as we are thus we look at our mindsets when trying to understand others’ mindsets.  According to Mitchell (2009) cited in Radecki, 2011 the neurobiological activation of the medial prefrontal cortex overlaps when we think about ourselves or when we think about others.  It can be argued that theory of mind is essential to interpersonal communication and social relationships but there is also the risk of a cognitive bias (or error) called the false consensus effect.  False consensus is a cognitive bias which implies that people overstate the degree to which they think other’s have the same opinions than they do or assuming that others know exactly what you mean.  (Ross et al).

The application of this at work is big:  When explaining a Business Strategy, A new Project design, or Business case for a new venture, Unethical Behavior (when a powerful leader  actually believes his or her unethical behavior is right) leading to tunnel vision where the leader and the entire company can become blinded to other behavioral options.

Thus, leaders need to be aware of this false consensus and should robustly solicit inputs from others; to ensure the cognitive errors/false consensus is reduced. Given that leaders are often under tough deadlines to churn out profits and thus under high cognitive load they default to their own “know how” or false consensus (Radecki, 2011).  This can have negative consequences for both business results and team effectiveness.

To conclude leaders need to be vigilant and self aware of their own cognitive bias – if they are not self aware and test their self- awareness with others they will limit their understanding of others to the same degree.  Thus be conscious of people’s differences and be cautious to “generalize”, “group think”, “consensus decide” or “tunnel vision”.


Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind.

Radecki, D., (2011, Nov 17). Class lecture given for Post-Graduate Certificate in the Neuroscience of Leadership – on philosophy of the social brain – March 2011 Intake.

Ross, L., 1977. The” False Consensus Effect”: An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes.. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


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