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Bunch of Tweets – Amygdala hijacks feed Twitter

12th Oct, 2012

  Ashley Cole’s angry tweet directed at the Football Association is one of many examples when a high profile figure has used Twitter to lash out. He’s not the first sports star to use Twitter in this way (think Kevin Pieterson, Rio Ferdinand and Joey Barton).  

Cole’s attack came after his evidence was criticised in a report released by the FA outlining why John Terry was banned for racially abusing the Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.

All of us have moments when we are overwhelmed by anger and emotion, and it would seem that social channel Twitter is providing the perfect platform to vent feelings. It only takes second to send a tweet. But, sharing flashes of anger with thousands of followers can have serious consequences. It’s mind-boggling how much damage can be done in a few seconds in the heat of the moment.

Those of us in positions of power need to be aware that Twitter has become the new home of amygdala hijacks – periods of intense emotion that may make the most level headed professionals temporarily lose the power of rational thought and say or do something they later regret.

The science behind amygdala hijacks

Now for the science! An amygdala hijack starts with a sensation which is routed a part of the brain called the thalamus, which acts like an air traffic controller to keep signals moving.

Typically, the thalamus directs an impulse or signal through the ‘thinking part of the brain’, the grey matter of the cerebral cortex. That signal is then sent to an area of the brain called the amygdala, where a flood of peptides and hormones are released to create emotion and action. But, if someone is experiencing intense anger the thalamus will treat the signal as a potential threat, and therefore bypass the cortex. The signal then goes straight to the amygdala, which generates a reflex, emotional reaction using its limited number of stored responses.

Prior to his outburst, Cole was being teed up for England captaincy to mark his 100th appearance for the Three Lions. Will he still be considered as right for the job? Like all potential leaders, Cole will need to keep his emotions in check in order gain the respect required to progress to the next level.  

Consider this…

In order to prevent amygdala hijacks, it is important to be aware of the prior circumstances that may lead to a hijack. Remember, individuals are particularly vulnerable when they are: passionately involved in a project; tired or experiencing a build up of stress; or under the influence of alcohol.

Recall an occasion when the thinking part of your brain fell victim to an amygdala hijacking. What fed the attack and how destructive was it? Can you identify any triggers? Then think about a time when you managed to avoid an attack. What did you do remain in control?

In order to be successful leaders we must be in control of our grey matter and emotions. Research by Daniel Goleman suggests that the difference between average and great leaders is their emotional intelligence and their ability to recognise, control and utilise emotion.

Here at Iridium Consulting we specialise in helping leaders, managers, teams and individuals improve their emotional intelligence and so improve organisational performance.. Find out more about the leadership development programmes that we run on Emotional Intelligence by calling the team on 01604 589675 or clicking here to email us.