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Key Information For PRISM Distributors and Practitioners
“Neuroscience can help change how companies think about new opportunities, and specifically,
within the emerging field of applied neuroscience. Applied neuroscience is best described as the use of neuroscience tools and insights to measure and understand human behavior.” Harvard Business Review 8 February 2019
The PRISM website ( contains comprehensive information about the
instrument and its origins, however it is essential that Certified PRISM Practitioners are fully conversant with the information contained in this document so that they can draw the attention of PRISM users, and potential users, to the difference between PRISM and what are commonly referred to as ‘psychometric tests’.
PRISM is not a psychometric test. It was designed to measure self expressed and observed human
behaviour preferences – not personality. The reason for this is that personality is only one of a number of factors that can influence our overall behaviour. Also, on occasions people can, and do, exhibit significant differences between their behaviour and their personality.
PRISM does not involve the use of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Instead, it asks users to identify how
accurately various behaviour descriptors reflect their own personal views on how they believe they
instinctively behave. When people talk about behaviour, they usually mean anything a person says or
does, but behaviour also includes things they may not be aware of, such as feelings, emotions, thinking and remembering. For example, a memory of some past experience can influence current behaviour.
People’s behavioural choices in interdependence situations can be affected by their anticipation of how other members of the group
will behave. The result is that each group member affects others, and is affected by others.
The other key difference between PRISM and traditional psychometric tests is that PRISM is based on the now-established fact that brain areas, structures and chemicals interact with each other and work in synergy to create and influence behaviour. For example, techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have made it possible to explore the way specific behaviour traits are linked to the brain. All of our emotions, sensations, aspirations and everything that makes us uniquely individual comes from our brain.
Many people use the terms “feeling” and “emotion” as synonyms, but they are not interchangeable. While they have similar elements, there is a marked difference between feelings and emotions. An emotion is an immediate physiological response to perceived stimulus which releases chemicals throughout our body that last about six seconds. On the other hand, feelings are how we begin to make meaning of emotions; they cause us to pay attention and react to the perceived threats or opportunities. A fundamental difference between feelings and emotions is that feelings are experienced consciously, while emotions manifest either consciously or subconsciously. Some people may spend years, or even a lifetime, not understanding the depths of their emotions.

What is PRISM?
PRISM is an online integrated system that creates an inventory of a person’s self-expressed behaviour
preferences and how those behaviours are likely to be observed by others. It takes its origins from an
initiative known as ‘The Decade of the Brain’ which was launched in 1990 by President George H. W.
Bush as part of a larger effort involving a wide range of agencies, including The National Institute of
Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health. The core role of that initiative was: “to enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research”.

PRISM does not need to be administered, scored or interpreted solely by people who are professional
psychologists, neither is it intended for use in making clinical diagnoses, nor for dealing with mental
health issues. PRISM and traditional psychometric instruments stem from two different sciences and
direct comparison is akin to comparing apples and oranges; they have some factors in common, but also fundamental differences. All PRISM users are, however, required to undertake a formal programme of online training and also successfully complete a practical and written assessment approved by the publishers.

PRISM is based on the unchallengeable fact that the brain is the source of all human behaviour.
Everything we know about the world around us, including what we know about our own bodies, comes from our brain. It processes all this information and chooses appropriate responses. Those responses are referred to as behaviour preferences. Each person exhibits his or her own personal behaviour preferences by how and what they say and do. It is important, therefore, to identify those behaviour signals and then adjust our own responses to improve relationships and reduce conflict.
The PRISM model is a ‘schema’ of the human brain. A schema is a diagrammatic representation of a
complex system (such as the brain) to aid understanding. The first use of schemas as a concept was in
1932 by a British psychologist, Frederic Bartlett, as part of his learning theory. In psychology the term
schema is also used to describe a pattern of thought or behaviour that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them.
The PRISM schema provides a highly simplified, graphical representation of how the brain’s functional
architecture and four of its chemical systems: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen, interact to create specific behaviour groupings. Brain chemical levels change from time to time for a variety of reasons, including diet, age, overall health and stress. As the chemical levels in the brain change, it follows that so too do the behaviours associated with those chemical changes.

Why was PRISM created?
As pointed out above, the PRISM inventory was created in 2002, in keeping with the principles of the
‘Decade of the Brain’ initiative i.e. to make use of some of the more recent discoveries of behavioural
neuroscience and to present them in a simplified and practical way. Some of those discoveries challenged
traditional thinking on human behaviour. For example, neuroscientists discovered that our brains
continue to change throughout our lives, constantly creating and strengthening connections among neurons – the cells in our brains that communicate – while pruning away unused connections. This process is known as neuroplasticity i.e. the brain’s remarkable capacity for physical self-change in the light of experiences.

Why does PRISM measure behaviour rather than personality?

People often treat personality and behaviour as being the same, but they are clearly different. Their
relative significance is well summarised by Professor Robin Stuart-Kotze, the eminent Canadian
organisational psychologist who has held Professorships or Visiting Professorships at a number of
universities in Canada and at Warwick, Aston and Oxford in the United Kingdom.

He said:
“It is absolutely critical not to confuse behaviour with personality. Personality is what you are;
behaviour is what you do, and it’s what you do that makes a difference. However, most people believe that personality determines how individuals act, and it’s very difficult to shake that belief. Personality testing is widely used in recruiting, with the underlying assumption that it will predict how people will behave in a job, and therefore will determine their performance. But if personality were the key to performance, then how can you explain the success of three people with very different personalities? A critical difference between behaviour and personality is that personality is essentially fixed at an early age and after that it changes very little.” [Source: ‘Performance: The Secrets of Successful Behaviour’ Publisher FT Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0273707981.]

How was PRISM developed?
As already highlighted above, PRISM is not the work of any one individual. The publishers have drawn
on the published collective works of many individuals in the fields of behavioural neuroscience to create a model that is easy to understand, yet one that is accurate and robust in its output. Those published works highlighted the following basic facts: The brain is a dynamic, electro-chemical system – widely regarded as probably the most complex in the known universe. All our thoughts, emotions and actions are the results of many parts of the brain acting together to create patterns of activity. Despite this, areas of the brain do have specialised functions, and the PRISM model reflects, in particular, the activities associated with the right and left hemispheres, and the frontal lobes and the posterior lobes.
The longitudinal fissure divides the brain into the two hemispheres and the central and lateral sulci divide the frontal lobes (including the motor cortex) from the parietal, occipital and temporal lobes (including the somatosensory cortex).

These four blocks are represented in the PRISM model by the Red, Blue, Green and Gold quadrants.
On a broad level, the brain lends itself to partitioning based largely on its anatomical structure. All
proposed divisions within the brain are, however, highly artificial and are created in response to the human need to separate things into neat, easily understandable units.
With that caveat in mind, the PRISM quadrant model provides users with a useful schema that they can prefer to when they are visualising how their brains are organised. PRISM is, therefore, based on scientific principles and facts which have been simplified into a workable model to facilitate understanding by those who have no background knowledge of behavioural neuroscience.
The quadrant model represents the right and left hemispheres of the brain, plus the frontal lobes and the posterior lobes. The ‘maps’ that are overlaid on the model are designed to show the intensity of a
respondent’s self-expressed preferences for the relevant behaviours and not the precise location of those behaviours.
In some respects, the PRISM method of presenting behaviour by using ‘maps’ that are visual
representations of a person’s behavioural preferences is in keeping with the principle of Gestalt
psychology. That principle maintains that: ‘the whole is different from the sum of its parts’. PRISM
emphasises the study of behaviour as a whole rather than simply focussing on independently functioning, disparate parts.
The information provided below is provided to give a basic insight into how the PRISM concept was

The brain hemispheres
The different functions of the two hemispheres are well summarised by Dr Iain McGilchrist, a Fellow of
the Royal College of Psychiatrists and former Research Fellow in neuroimaging at the Johns Hopkins
Hospital in Baltimore. He highlights some of the key differences between the two brain hemispheres as follows:
The left hemisphere (red and gold): is not impressed by empathy needs certainty and to be right applies linear, sequential analysis to achieve clarity is competitive and its concern, its prime motivation, is power is, by comparison with the right hemisphere, emotionally neutral focally suppresses meanings that are not currently relevant tends to deal more with pieces of information in isolation takes the single solution that seems best to fit what it already knows and latches onto it.
The right hemisphere (green and blue): is involved in the experience of emotions of all kinds is especially important for flexibility of thought is constantly searching for patterns of things has by far the preponderance of emotional understanding is in general more intimately connected with the limbic system deals with incomplete information and tolerates uncertainty is particularly well equipped to deal with passions, sense of humour, metaphoric and symbolic understanding, and all imaginative and intuitive processes Dr McGilchrist adds:
“What is new must first be presented in the right hemisphere before it can come into focus for the
left. Not just new experiences, but the learning of new information or new skills also engages the
right hemisphere attention more than the left. The right frontal lobe is especially important for
flexibility of thought. Empathy, social understanding, humour, metaphor, more subtle emotional understanding, the appreciation of individuals, the reading of faces, and much else go on in the right hemisphere.
Fascinatingly there is clear evidence that the left hemisphere alone codes for machines and tools –
even in left-handers, who would be using their right hemisphere to use tools and build machines in
daily life.

The two hemispheres are linked by a ‘bridge’, known as the corpus callosum that has an
‘excitatory’ function i.e. it enables the two hemispheres to communicate with each other. However,
the main purpose of a large number of these connections is actually to inhibit – in other words to
stop the other hemisphere interfering. The corpus callosum’s excitatory and inhibitory roles are,
therefore both necessary for normal human functioning.”
[Source: ‘The Master and His Emissary’ Yale University Press; 2nd edition (15 Jun. 2012)]
Despite those hemisphere differences, PRISM does not subscribe to the popular theory of ‘brain
dominance’. People are not either ‘right-brained’ or ‘left brained’.

Why does PRISM use the Red, Blue, Green and Gold colours?
These colours were chosen because of the impact they have on the brain and ultimately on behaviour. The
impacts were highlighted in various studies by the ‘Wagner Institute of Color Research’, Chicago.
According to that research, the psychological properties of the four colours are as follows:
Being the longest wavelength, Red is a powerful colour. It enhances human metabolism and raises blood pressure. It increases the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. It is associated with energy, danger, strength, power and determination, as well as passion. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stop lights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. Red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. Red brings text and images to the foreground. Use it as an accent colour to stimulate people to make quick decisions; it is a perfect colour for ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Click Here’ buttons on internet banners and websites. Red is widely used to indicate danger (traffic lights).
Blue slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to Red. Strong Blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter, soft Blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. It is often associated with depth, reflection and stability. It symbolizes trust, and loyalty and is strongly associated with tranquillity and calmness. As opposed to emotionally warm colours like Red, Blue suppresses appetite and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to red. The colour causes the brain to release tranquilizing hormones and can be used effectively in hospitals and dentists’ clinics.
Green is the colour of nature. Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance – a more important concept than many people realise. Green is the most restful colour for the human eye; it can improve vision. It symbolizes freshness and newness. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety.
We are reassured by Green, on a primitive level. Green is a refreshing colour and hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients Green is used to indicate safety when advertising drugs and medical products or services.
The Gold wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. Gold is regarded as the strongest
colour, psychologically. It stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. It stimulates the
neurotransmitter serotonin. It is an attention getter, but when overused, Gold may have a disturbing effect and people are more likely to lose their tempers and babies tend to cry more in Gold coloured rooms.
Gold is the most visible colour and is the first colour the human eye notices. It is associated with caution.

It is seen before other colours when used with black; this combination is often used to issue a warning e.g. hazard signs.
How were the four primary PRISM behaviour dimensions (Red, Blue, Green and Gold) identified?
Initially, the four primary dimensions of PRISM behavioural traits were identified and extracted from
existing scientific literature, each one associated with one of four broad neural systems: the dopamine,
serotonin, testosterone and estrogen systems. The findings of additional studies were added subsequently and the PRISM scales were refined as relevant new literature became available.
Here is a sample of just a few of the 130 or more studies that relate to the dimensions of PRISM
Testosterone (PRISM Red)
Being less polite, respectful, considerate or friendly (Dabbs, 1997; Harris, Rushton, Hampson, &
Jackson, 1996)
Being more confident, forthright and bold (Nyborg, 1994).
Drive for rank, the tendency to create dominance hierarchies (e.g., Mazur, Susman & Edelbrock,
Enhanced self-assurance (Zilioli and Watson, 2013)
Reduced empathy (Knickmeyer et al., 2006).
Estrogen (PRISM Blue)
Empathy, nurturing, social attachments (Baron-Cohen, 2002; Kendrick, 2000, Pedersen et al.,
1992; Taylor et al., 2000).
The drive to make social attachments (Carter, 1998; Edelstein et al., 2010),
Mental flexibility (Skuse et al., 1997).
Empathy and nurturing (Knickmeyer et al., 2006)
Generosity and trust (Kosfeld et al., 2005)
Dopamine (PRISM Green) Thrill, experience and adventure seeking; boredom susceptibility; and disinhibition.. (Zuckerman, 2005) Idea generation, and verbal and non-linguistic creativity (Flaherty, 2005) Energy, social assertiveness, and motivation (Depue & Collins, 1999); Curiosity (Zuckerman and Kuhlman, 2000)
Serotonin (PRISM Gold) conscientiousness (Manuck et al., 1998; DeYoung et al., 2002, 2010; DeYoung and Gray, 2009, concrete thinking and sustained attention(Zuckerman 1994), orderliness (DeYoung & Gray, 2005) self-control and self-regulation (Linnoila et al., 1994; Manuck et al., 1998) precision and interest in details (Cloninger et al., 1991)

How was PRISM validated?
In 2002, the PRISM developers created a self-perception questionnaire which was developed for both
online and paper & pencil administration. The 32-item measure contained four 8-item scales to investigate the behavioural characteristics associated with testosterone, estrogen, dopamine and serotonin systems, which the labelled for ease of understanding as Red, Blue, Green and Gold respectively. A Likert-like 4-point scale was used, providing participants with the options: 0: strongly disagree, 1: disagree, 2: agree, 3: strongly agree. The questionnaire was completed initially by 2,437 anonymous men and women whose ages ranged from 19 to 60 years of age. The Cronbach’s alpha internal consistency coefficient scores
obtained from the sample averaged 0.8 for the four groups.
Having re-examined the results of their initial survey in 2003, the PRISM developers identified two
distinct clusters of behaviours within each system. Using factor analysis, each primary scale was broken
down into two sub-scales:
(1) Dopamine (Green): ‘Innovating’ and ‘Initiating’
(2) Estrogen (Blue): Supporting’ and ‘Co-ordinating’
(3) Testosterone (Red): ‘Focussing’ and ‘Delivering’
(4) Serotonin (Gold): ‘Finishing’ and ‘Evaluating’

During 2006 and 2007 the questionnaire was refined slightly and re-validated on two occasions involving 897 and 983 anonymous men and women. As in the earlier study, the participants ages ranged from 19 to 60 years. Further, refinements to the questionnaire were made in the light of that study.
In 2014, having satisfied themselves that the PRISM measurements scales were valid, the
authors requested an external validation study be carried out by an independent assessor at Sussex
University. That study concluded:
“We conducted a large-scale study in order to reach the final scale reported in this paper. 1124
participants took part in the study. Of the participants, 590 were female and 534 were male.
Their ages ranged from 15 years to 61 years, with 94% of the participants being 50 years old or
younger. The ethnic mix of the participants ranged from Arabic, African, European, Chinese,
Japanese, Indian and Pakistani. This ethnic mix is more diverse than the sample from the initial
validation study.
As in the previous validation study, we also ran reliability analyses using
Cronbach’s Alpha.

This analysis produced results indicating very high levels of internal consistency for the sub-scales. For the four main sub-scales the reliability scores were above 0.94. This is a very high level of internal consistency. We also analysed the data for the eight subscales, and these were also highly reliable with internal consistency scores above 0.92. Overall, these findings give us confidence about the internal consistency of the PRISM sub-scales and suggest that PRISM is a highly reliable measurement instrument.”

The importance of behavioural neuroscience, as highlighted in this document, has been well summed up by Nobel Laureate, Professor Stanley B Prusiner, who is Director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at the University of California San Francisco: “Neuroscience is by far the most exciting branch of science because the
brain is the most fascinating object in the universe. Every human brain is different – the brain makes each human unique and defines who he or she is.” Professor Prusiner’s comments provide powerful support for the growing belief that understanding relevant information about the brain should be part of the education curriculum for teenagers. For example, they should have the opportunity to learn about their own brains and how they are in the process of changing. When children understand how their brains change due to neuroplasticity as they learn new things, the whole concept of learning in school could change profoundly for them.

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