The ‘Crab Mentality’ Is Why You’re Stuck In A Dead-End Job, Reveals Famous Neuroscientist

Are we really deep wired to ensure collective demise in the workplace?

Man holding up a bucket of crabs.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Are we really deep wired to ensure collective demise in the workplace?

Sick and tired of your dead-end job? Well, you can leave and go on to better things any time you like, but you probably won’t, because like millions of others, you’re a classic victim of what the men in white coats refer to as “crab mentality.” At least that’s what leading neuroscientist and executive coach Dr. Tara Swart explains is behind the unhappiness and ennui of the most disgruntled employees in the workplace.

Picture the scene. It’s Monday morning and the alarm bell rings, setting every nerve in your worn-out body and frazzled mind on edge. And as you struggle out from beneath the languid comfort of the duvet and drag your sleep-deprived body to work yet another grueling nine-to-five shift in the dark, Satanic mills of the modern workplace and a job you despise, you’re faced with the horror that this is the way it’s going to be – forever.

Except it doesn’t have to be. According to Yahoo, Swart believes we’re all susceptible to mutual self-destruction, which goes against our most basic survival instincts. In short, we’re all deep-wired to ensure collective demise at work. This willful self-destruction has been labeled the crab mentality.

When crabs are trapped in a bucket, any crab, in theory, is capable of escaping the woeful situation they’re in. But here’s the rub –They don’t. Instead, they all work really hard to pull any crab that appears to be escaping back into the bucket. In other words, they’d all rather lose than let one plucky crab win.

Dr. Swart explained that crab mentality is loss aversion by another name. Apparently, our brains are wired in such a way that we are far more keen to avoid a loss than to get a reward. And this could translate into the workplace environment, Swart related.

“So, seeing someone else as successful feels in our brains that we’re losing a piece of our pie potentially. Even though we may get a smaller piece of pie — even though that’s part of something larger and better and the group doing well — it doesn’t feel like that to us in our brains when we’re just trying to survive,” said Swart.

“So if we see a crab escaping, I guess which is like someone getting a promotion, that makes us think that we’re not favored or we’re not successful and it stimulates this fear of change. The other crab also makes us feel fear, shame, disgust, sadness and even anger.”

Crabs which have just been caught by a fishing boat.
  Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In a nutshell, the crab mentality is the old-fashioned “if I can’t have it, neither can you” mindset. In an attempt to live up to this time-honored maxim, human beings will apparently pull out all the stops to shatter the self-confidence of any colleague who is a success story. The crab mentality is fed by spite, envy, and resentment. It is so powerful that it even overrides a person’s survival instincts.

So next time you’re manically whistling the famous Dolly Parton song about how hard it is to make a living, while staggering like a sleep-deprived sloth to the workplace, beware the crabs, because their numbers are many and their strength is all-powerful.