I am drained, but also relieved. During the last couple of weeks, the mood in the Kaserei, where I currently work, has been steadily declining (see post July 21 “Growing Pains”). This week the head cheesemaker was fired, or freigestellt, as it is euphemistically called in German. It is a strange feeling to be so energy-drained from interpersonal dynamics; activities that normally are not that hard and even energizing, like running, suddenly become strenuous. A person in your midst who drains energy. An energy vampire.

When I look up Energy Vampire, a wikipedia entry defines it as “a fictional and religious creation said to feed off the ‘life force’ of other living creatures” furthermore, …There is no scientific or medical evidence  supporting the existence of the bodily or psychic energy they allegedly drain.”

It puzzles me; how is it possible that one person accomplishes these, for me physical, changes through subtle behavior. What puzzles me more is that there is no explanation for it, especially since we are all well aware of the effect of the opposite: the motivational speaker. TED talk galore, inspiring us to do greater things. Whether this is an actual driver of productivity is not clear, but the sheer number of motivational speeches shows that we have a need for this kind of behavioral interaction, it gives us energy. How does it work? 

This question is also the foundation of Kou Murayama’s research, based on the premise that motivation is important in almost every aspect of human behavior, he proposed a multidisciplinary approach and now Motivation Science is an emerging field of study. Being motivated is necessary to succeed in life, he states.  It makes evolutionary sense, but it still not addresses my energy vampire problem. Is there a biological precedent?


Naturally. parasitism comes to mind, a symbiotic relationship where one creature benefits at the expense of the other. “Parasites increase their own fitness by exploiting hosts for resources necessary for their survival.…. social parasites take advantage of interspecific interactions between member of social animals such as ants, and bumblebees.” Wow. Maybe it is not so strange after all, this idea that one creature feeds off the ‘life force’ of another, but parasitism is mostly discussed between two creatures of different species. The gall wasp lets its babies feed off the oak tree, who in return has its babies eaten by the crypt-keeper (“Growing Pains” July 21)

Then again, in our Kaserei case, is its just metaphor and are we imagining that we are being energetically exploited? In the last days before his release however, I got a hunch that our leader did not have the best intentions, at least not for us, and was on a mission to get rid of at least some of us. Deception, the opposite of honesty. Honesty is what motivates people and other creatures alike. And yes, there is a biological precedent. It has to do with the balance between individual gain and social cohesion. 


As written by Ifiguez and co-authors,  honesty plays a crucial role in any situation where organisms exchange information or resources. Dishonesty can thus be expected to have damaging effects on social coherence if agents cannot trust the information or goods they receive. Their research shows however that honesty and dishonesty are more like a continuum in supporting social cohesion and diversity. Somehow, maintaining social cohesion in the face of deception must require lots of energy. The authors distinguish between different kind of lies, we all have used so-called ‘white lies’ to protect someone or the greater good. These are different than lies that are used for  purely personal gain. The researchers use a type of network analysis/ agent=based modeling to track how information moves through the network and effect on cohesion. They pose, among other things, that deceptive relations eventually break the link between the agents, who are then eager to make new links to avoid becoming marginalized.

The last couple of weeks were a bit rough, but also informative, a learning moment on how subtle behavior can make people feel inferior, confused, uncertain; who to trust, I am glad for the insight on how the coherence of a small group of people can become unhinged as a result, and can only imagine how this plays out on larger scenes, when whole populations are treated in such way, being deceived, being lied to, being made to feel inferior,  In our case we were able to turn the tables, the effort to devalue our work, eventually turned against him, we rearranged ourselves. The effect of deception, not just within our species, seems to be widespread. I believe that with the emerging science of motivation, it would be wise to pay equal attention to its nemesis, deception, in order to expose its destructive power. Energy Vampire, maybe not so fictional after all.