Suppose Bob hates his boss. Note that Bob is an "average" person. Also suppose that he shouts as loudly as possible "[Curse] my boss" (with nobody else around but him).

Why is it so difficult for Bob to say this directly to his boss? Is this based on social norms or is there a specific brain region which restrains this outburst?

  • $\begingroup$ Why would “social norms” not be associated with a “specific brain region”? $\endgroup$
    – Gala
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ Social norms vs. brain are two paradigms which can be used to analyzed the same phenomenon. They must not be seen as mutually exclusive, like @Gala has stated. Moreover, answers generated on grounds of these paradigms must not necessarily be commensurable (in the sense of T. Kuhn). $\endgroup$
    – user14074
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:23

2 Answers 2


While there may be many social norms operating that discourage expression of hatred to your boss, typically there would be many rational reasons not to express such hatred:

  • The employee's job could be terminated, which may result in lower income for the employee or a worse job in the future. Swearing in the workplace would often be considered harassment which would often be grounds for termination.
  • Even where an employee has arranged another job to go to (but then technically, the relationship is not really one of employee to boss), there is the risk associated with reputation damage that can result from verbally abusing a boss.
  • If the outburst does not result in loss of job, a boss typically has extensive control over the employee. Bosses can typically influence your work duties, when you get leave, when you have to be at work, whether he supports a promotion, who is terminated during a redundancy process, etc. If your boss likes you, then they often have substantial discretion to make your life easier. In all those kinds of situations, life is easier if your boss is on your side.
  • Independent of the power relationship, you need to spend time with co-workers, and many people find it more pleasant to exist in a pleasant social work environment.

Thus, I don't think we need to resort to a neural explanation to adequately understand this behaviour.

Furthermore, presumably there are legitimate ways of expressing displeasure with your boss that would be more effective in achieving your goals. This might broadly come under the heading of "negotiation".


I think it's learned behavior by the culture: You know that finding a new job is extremely hard, you have bills to pay so you do slave-like things even you don't like them. Long term thinking is largely involved (middle parts of your cortex)

But the areas of controlling the short term social behavior are located to the large extent in your prefrontal cortex https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefrontal_cortex

Subsequent studies on patients with prefrontal injuries have shown that the patients verbalized what the most appropriate social responses would be under certain circumstances. Yet, when actually performing, they instead pursued behavior aimed at immediate gratification, despite knowing the longer-term results would be self-defeating.

and fear is also to the large extent efected by amygdala https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala.


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