Stress Contagion, the DOL and You

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Yawn.

YAWN.

Yaaaaaawwwwwwn.

Are you yawning after reading this? I’m fighting back the urge myself after writing the word three times—what gives? The answer to this extreme suggestibility lies with what scientists call mirror neurons—neurons that fire when an action is being performed and when that same action is being observed. The original discovery of mirror neurons took place in a sleepy, somewhat overlooked research lab in Parma, Italy. Scientists there were studying the brains of macaque monkeys in an effort to understand how the brain organizes motor behavior. As Martin Lindstrom explains, the scientists quickly discovered some things that challenged their assumptions about how the brain works:

“They observed that the macaques’ pre-motor neurons would light up not just when the monkeys reached for that nut, but also when they saw other monkeys reaching for a nut.” (Buyology)

Whether an action was performed by the monkey or merely observed, the effect on the brain was identical.

Stranger still was what they observed one sweltering afternoon when a graduate student on the team entered the lab with an ice cream cone. One of the monkeys, still hooked up to the monitoring apparatus, was staring greedily at the frosty treat. As the student brought the ice cream closer for a lick, the macaque’s pre-motor region began lighting up the screen:

“It hadn’t moved its arm or taken a lick of ice cream; it wasn’t even holding anything at all. But simply by observing the student bringing the ice cream cone to his mouth, the monkey’s brain had mentally imitated the very same gesture.” (Buyology)

shutterstock_153551429Mirror neurons are the reason why you cry in a sad movie, cringe at the sight of someone else eating something gross, or close your eyes when the chainsaw-wielding local stumbles upon the unsuspecting group of college kids at the lake house. Mirror neurons are why “unboxing” videos exist (seriously, it’s a thing), because it’s nearly as fun to watch someone else open a new gaming system or expensive toy as it is to do it ourselves. To truly apply this learning, give your children a video of other children opening presents at their next birthday party and tell them Dr. Crosby told you it’s more or less the same thing!

At this point you as a financial advisor may be thinking, “this all makes sense” and simultaneously wondering, “what does this have to do with me and my work?” It has been my anecdotal experience that just as married couples tend to resemble one another over time, the clients of financial advisors tend to behave much like the advisors with whom they work.

There may be some self-selection at work here but even more powerful are the cues that clients take from their advisors with each interaction. If your office has CNBC on loop and is stockpiled with magazines devoted to the hot stocks du jour, don’t be surprised when clients lead with griping about performance instead of sticking to their plan. Likewise, if you telegraph panic and are prone to complaining about politics and capital markets, don’t be surprised when your own fears land on your doorstop in the form of hand-wringing clients.

shutterstock_108406256The DOL’s “conflicts of interest” rule was announced yesterday, and with that will come the questions and uncertainty inherent in any new piece of legislation. Bearing in mind the concept of stress contagion, I would encourage you to consider the ways in which your clients will look to you as a leader and follow your example when sifting through their own feelings about this legislation in general and your value to them in specific. Change, it would seem, is coming, but one of the core beliefs of The Center for Outcomes is that periods of disruption provide opportunities for differentiation for the truly prepared. Whatever changes may come, your value to your clients and your position as a leader are steadfast and must be positioned as such.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

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