Vertical Development: How Grown-ups Grow Up
The Developmental
Neuroscience and Vertical Development

Neuroscience and Vertical Development

With Johan Mellerup Traekjaer (Senior Consultant at Amara Collaboration)

While empirical evidence for adult development theories is robust, we still have much to learn about the cognitive and neurological substrates of human development. What changes in our brain when we develop vertically? How can the idea that humans evolve in ever-increasing stages of mental complexity and perspective-taking be reconciled with research on neuroplasticity and cognition?

I was very excited to step into this fascinating in-between space together with Johan Mellerup Traekjaer a cognitive scientist with deep expertise in adult development. Here are a few of the key ideas we touched on:


Brief Episode Notes:

[00:00:00] Alis and Johan dive into the intersection of adult development and neuroscience.

[00:02:00] Johan's background: From feeling like a school misfit to exploring cognitive science and time in the military.

[00:08:00] Introduction to non-linear dynamics in cognitive development.

[00:10:00] The brain's preference for predictability and its growth implications.

[00:18:00] The brain's models of reality and their subjective nature.

[00:31:00] The value of stepping outside one's comfort zone

[00:33:00] Role of emotions in adult development and perspective shifts.

[00:39:00] Connection between learning and inherent discomfort.

[00:44:30] The brain's "handbrake" activates in overwhelming situations.

[00:47:30] Value of taking small, uncomfortable steps for brain development.

[00:49:00] Stress's influence on working memory, decision-making and perspective-taking

[00:59:00] We're part of larger systems, not isolated entities.

[01:00:30] Vision of a society prioritizing development and collective wisdom.

[01:03:30] Societal benefits of focusing on developmental work.

[01:05:30] Closing reflections and gratitude.

About Johan Mellerup Traekjaer

Johan has a diverse background ranging from academia to military and security work. In the early years, Johan worked on the frontline as a protection officer, security operator and consultant as well as in the rehabilitation of young offenders. He eventually swung in an academic direction, lecturing and researching cognitive science and organisational psychology, while still keeping a foot in the high-stakes world training various operators in stress management, threat and tactical security behaviour, and high-risk conflict management. He has been leading an academic leadership program for senior noncom officers and Air Force pilots. 

Previously associate professor at UC South Denmark and currently a senior consultant at Amara Collaboration and scientific advisor at Shifting Horizons, Johan has been exploring the space between science, spirituality, and adult development for two decades and will continue to do so. His primary interest is the interplay between human consciousness, biological systems and physics. Johan lives in Denmark and enjoys his free time reading extensively, sea kayaking, running, self-defence and when there is time, exploring the wild. 

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Additional resources:

Amy Arnsten’s research on stress:

A brilliant article from Johan on the importance of action towards building wisdom:

An initial study in the neuroscience of adult development: Toward a Neuroscience of Adult Cognitive Developmental Theory:

A study on the brain of contemplative practitioners and links to adult development: "Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Correlate with Psychosocial Development in Contemplative Practitioners and Controls"

Navigating the Affordance Landscape: Feedback Control as a Process Model of Behavior and Cognition:

Joscha Bach: Life, Intelligence, Consciousness, AI & the Future of Humans

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Vertical Development: How Grown-ups Grow Up
The Developmental
A podcast about the messy, beautiful ways grown-ups grow up. Leaders, learning experts and developmental researchers come together to explore turning science into the day-to-day practice of adult development in teams, homes, organisations, and life.
Dr Alis Anagnostakis is an adult development researcher, group learning facilitator and founder of the Vertical Development Institute. Her highest hope as a researcher-practitioner is to help support the growth of conscious, mature and future-fit leaders and to bring the tools of vertical development into day-to-day to day life.