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Rock's SCARF Social Needs


Explanations > Needs > Rock's SCARF Social Needs

Status | Certainty | Autonomy | Relatedness | Fairness |  So what?


Rock (2008) introduces the SCARF model, which involves five domains of 'human social experience'. These can be viewed as social needs and do intersect with other models. It has a basis in considerations of approach or avoidance.


Status is our relative importance as compared with the other people around us. This concerns us so much we constantly assess our status against other, even with complete strangers to who we will never speak. Are they taller than us? More attractive? Smarter? Richer? We measure ourselves and others to know how to interact with others. If we are superior, we can command or ignore them. If we are inferior, we must bow down or beware their anger.

Status appears in Maslow's Hierarchy in our need for esteem. Once we have established our membership of a group, we seek to gain power so we can more achieve both fundamental needs and higher goals, from basic safety to procreation and spreading our genes. It has also been found that higher status people live longer, perhaps through reduced stress or factors such as better diet that may be associated with greater wealth.


When we work to make sense of what we perceive, anything we cannot fit to our inner models leads to confusion and uncertainty. Uncertainty warns us that there may be a threat, which leads us to respond. When we are certain, we have a sense of control that underpins our confidence in our ability to respond.

Certainty is important in our ability to predict the future. If we know what is going to happen with a high degree of confidence, then we can decide what we will do, including avoiding threats and taking advantage of opportunities.


Autonomy is being able to make one's own choices and relates to the sense of control over events around us. In the workplace, one of the major causes of stress is being given responsibility for a job while having little autonomy in deciding how to do the work, and limited control over any needed resources in this activity.

A paradox of autonomy in life is that you have to work to get money to give you autonomy and control in your private life, yet working towards this requires giving away autonomy to one's employer or customer.


Relatedness is a sense of connection with others, of bonding with them in meaningful relationships, of having a sense of belonging with those to who you relate. Relatedness involves choice with who you will connect and the trust you place in others. It also gives the same choice to those other people, which can make a mis-matched relationship rather stressful.

Relatedness is a major force in creating community, pulling people into an interrelated web of connections who serve communal purpose as well as individual goals. This is a powerful force for evolution, where we have learned that tribal living is more successful in species survival than everyone trying to go it alone.


When living with others and even while seeking a differentiated status, we also need to feel that we live in a fair and just society, where each person has equal opportunity and a certain amount of sharing is undertaken to ensure everyone is safe and healthy. When we negotiate with others, for example, we want to know that what they give us is at least as valuable as what we give them. When we encounter asymmetry in gains, we feel this is unfair and want to redress the balance.

So what?

These needs have particular focus on our social lives, and understanding how we each seek to satisfy these needs can lead to a greater ability to shape both our own lives and also those of others.

In persuading, ensure these needs are addressed, either to make people feel good about us, or to create tensions that drive how they behave in the desired direction.

See also

Status, Control, Fairness, Relationships


Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, NeuroLeadership Journal, Issue 1


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