What are the 7 ancient instincts?

Jaan Panskepp, a radical neuroscientist identified human beings are driven by seven ancient instincts, or “primary-process affective systems,”. These are seeking, anger, fear, panic-grief, care, pleasure/lust and play.


The instinct for success…

Interestingly, it is thought that the most powerful instinct is “seeking”. Something that we generally give little thought or credence to. This is the instinct that moves us to explore our environment in order to meet our needs.  This instinct leads us to forage, explore, exercise our curiosity, expect an outcome and feel euphoric by virtue of the search as opposed to the result that we achieve.


The seeking instinct is what gets us out of bed in the morning and drives us to have our coffee and/or breakfast and choose what we are going to wear. It is also crucial to achieving viable and creative options in negotiations and stimulating the dopamine that energises and provides the motivation for the successful conclusion of those negotiations.


The barriers to success

Even for the most adept negotiators, the seeking instinct can be shut down when the grief-fear instinct is takes over and this can and will happen during the course of our day to day business and personal lives. The grief-fear instinct is inevitable during the course of litigation or a relationship breakdown. It can be triggered through an argument with a business partner, the withdrawal of an investment opportunity, a mistake that endangers business growth, a management or performance issue putting manager and direct report at odds or a neighbourhood or freeholder disagreement that affect financial and, in some cases, emotional security.  It can be triggered not only by a client who concerned about the chances of their client to win the case but also their legal and commercial team who will, necessarily, experience consequences in the face of actual or potential loss.  It can also be contagious quickly affecting teams.


Scientists tell us that when we are in grief-fear we are experiencing actual or potential loss of social disenfranchisement and so our ability to connect and specifically negotiate with others becomes compromised. Additionally, our ability to seek is dulled and with it our ability to go through the process that takes us to a solution.


Part of the process of mediation is to create the possibility for key players to move out of grief-fear and into seeking as it is there that they will find a resolution. One of the ways that Jaan Panskepp has established this as being possible is through play which is vital for humans and other animals to build and test relationships.


The solution of the playful mediator


If taken to its final conclusion, therefore, an important job of the mediator is to create an environment that is conducive to play in order that they can then support the parties to move to seek and find solutions. This is not to be flippant. The stakes are inevitably high during the course of a mediation. Rather, the mediator will create challenges / games / jigsaws and the opportunity for strategic play that triggers the parties instinct to seek. This can happen in a mediation in a because the mediator can take the parties out of the formal framework and move them in a direction where creativity and out of the box thinking is once again possible. The result is generally not just a resolution to the problem but an opening for new opportunities and ways of working.