Visioning in the brain: an fMRI study of inspirational coaching and mentoring

Soc Neurosci. 2013;8(4):369-84. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2013.808259.


Effective coaching and mentoring is crucial to the success of individuals and organizations, yet relatively little is known about its neural underpinnings. Coaching and mentoring to the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) emphasizes compassion for the individual's hopes and dreams and has been shown to enhance a behavioral change. In contrast, coaching to the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA), by focusing on externally defined criteria for success and the individual's weaknesses in relation to them, does not show sustained change. We used fMRI to measure BOLD responses associated with these two coaching styles. We hypothesized that PEA coaching would be associated with increased global visual processing and with engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), while the NEA coaching would involve greater engagement of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Regions showing more activity in PEA conditions included the lateral occipital cortex, superior temporal cortex, medial parietal, subgenual cingulate, nucleus accumbens, and left lateral prefrontal cortex. We relate these activations to visioning, PNS activity, and positive affect. Regions showing more activity in NEA conditions included medial prefrontal regions and right lateral prefrontal cortex. We relate these activations to SNS activity, self-trait attribution and negative affect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mentors / psychology*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Young Adult