on 18 February 2016
Matthew Lieberman’s book is good: it reads well, the structure is helpful and linear for the general-interest reader while also offering some depth for the detail-oriented bookworm or specialist. However, it sometimes overstretches in its interpretation of the brain activity generated in the experiments it considers. This is a classic problem, and the fact that it is starting to be solved within the neuro-science community means that the field is less likely to end up as the phrenology of the 21st century.
Lieberman makes clear that there are brain networks primarily in charge of social, self-referential and “mind-wandering” thoughts, and other networks that take care of problem-solving and analytical thinking, and these networks are both considered in building the case for how our brains make us human.
And two things for sure make us human: the fact that you can think what the other person thinks that you think (called higher-order theory of mind, and beautifully illustrated by the rock/paper/scissors game), and that we can project ourselves into the future (called long-term planning prediction and anticipation). No other animal can go that far; and the fact that humans created culture means that we have greatly complicated the inferences we can make regarding the evolutionary advantages of specific but complex behaviours such as altruism.
This apparently “human-only” characteristic is also well considered here, and it’s worth weighing Lieberman’s hypothesis about why we tend to avoid boasting about helping others and see it as a rewarding thing in itself.
Lieberman strikes me as an honest scientist, diligently searching for answers about why we feel pain on a psychological level (the end of a relationship, the death of a parent), or why we feel rewarded by praise or when we give money to strangers.
These are not new ideas, but Lieberman, like all original researchers, asks the right questions, looks for the best experiment to do, and tries to answer in light of real neural mechanisms. Classic social scientists are afraid of his kind. He is a threat to all those dark-matter classical psychologists who either backbench from half-dead theories or perform experiments sitting in their black boxes, where the mechanisms of “how behaviour happens” appear to have nothing to do with the workings of the brain.
I might not agree with some of the concepts Lieberman crafts from his experiments, but I am pleased that he shows determination in building a mechanistic, brain-grounded account of who we are. And surely one of the uses of this book should be as a spark to think about precisely that.
Lieberman the scientist is a firm believer in the theory that we are wired to connect, or, to put it rather better, that we have evolved, through natural selection, to be social animals that thrive now in almost all “ecosystems” using the unique feature of mentalising; and that we cannot avoid thinking, and thinking what the other person is thinking…capisce? He brings the book to a courageous conclusion in his attempt to use “social brain” concepts to guide policymaking. I cannot help but applaud any bid to use scientific evidence to back decisions for learning, business or politics in general. The way we are and how we think must be taken into account when deciding the kind of society we want – and the good news is that it can be based on real research into who we are.
on 18 October 2013
This is an exceptional book, examining the latest in neuroscience and demonstrating how social interactions are woven into the very essence of how we live our lives. The implications for our personal, family, community and workplace relationships are all explored. Lieberman manages to make the 'science' not only intelligible to the lay person but entertaining and absolutely compelling! This book should be compulsory reading for leaders of `organizations' such as schools and workplaces - implementing even a few his suggestions would make phenomenal changes for the better.
on 9 August 2015
This is amazing book. It will clarify a lot of things that you probably noticed from your surroundings. It gives clarification on many questions one may ask. Here are some for example:
How we as human beings see social threats? Why we fear reticulating in front of other people? Why we always tent to follow the crowd?
I picked some interesting facts of the book. Our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental and basic than a need for food and shelter. We have a unique ability among species to read other peoples minds, to figure out their hopes, fears, and motivations, allowing us to effectively coordinate allies with one another.
More reviews on my website http://adamwojnar.com
We are wired to be social. After food and shelter we need to meet social life, because we are not able to do anything else.
At the age of 10 hour brain has done 10,000 hours work in social.
When we don’t think of anything, our brain switches to solving social puzzles.
Being with and around people means survive. Mother Theresa said that the most devastating thing what one can experience is to live without other people. Don’t always search in yourself. Look around to find out who you are. People give you feedback is all the time.
Our brains want us to be average for survivor and safety. We are survivor machines. People who can be seen by cameras therefore punished by society behave better. Less stealing and breaking rules. The worst punishment is, what will others say.
We won’t be good for the group because they reward us. The key is giving.
Social pain is like physical pain. It helps us ensure the survival of our children by helping to keep them close today a parent. The new ruling between social and physical pain also ensures that staying social contact it will be a lifelong need, like food and warmth. Given the fact that our brains treat social and physical pain similarly, should we as a society treats social pain differently than we do?
Our society has assumed the smartest among us are those who have particularly strong analytical skills. But from the listener in perspective, perhaps the smartest among us are actually dealt with the best social skills.
I do not mean to suggest that physical and social pain are identical. No one has ever broken his arm and confused with having been dumped by his girlfriend. Memories of social pain are much more intense the memories of social pain. Different kinds of pain feel differently and have distinctive characteristics. Social pain is a real pain just as physical pain is real pain.
– When we take a pill for headache it seems that it helps our feelings of heartache go away too.
– Taking a pill for headache or physical pain had made the brain’s network less sensitive to the pain of rejection.
– Mutual cooperation activates the reward system as an end in itself.
All tests show that our supposed to be selfish and reward system seems to like giving more than receiving. Even test with children show that teenagers reported taking pleasure in helping their families in daily life, they also showed increased reward system activity when donating their money to the families.
– Our cultural development of skills and habits depends on our capacity of imitation.
– If the person is unable to mimic those facial expressions because of recent Botox injections that actually paralyze the expressive muscles in the face, that person will actually be worse at recognizing emotions in others.
– Our self works for a group to ensure that we will fit in. Most of us will conform to group norms, promoting social harmony.
– Possibility of being judged and evaluated by others dramatically increases our tendency to behave in line with societies values and morals.
The message is clear I’ll brain is profoundly social, with some of the oldies social wiring dating back more than hundred million years. Our wiring motivates us to stay connected. It returned our attention again and again to understanding the minds of the people around us like a rubber band snapping back into place.
More reviews on my website http://adamwojnar.com
The best works of non-fiction tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of this one as its annotated "Notes" (Pages 309-365) indicates. To Matthew Lieberman's great credit, he presents a wealth of information and insights with language that non-scientists such as I can understand. His primary purpose is to explain why and how the human brain is wired to think socially. That is, to make connections, to read the minds of others, and to "harmonize" with others in the groups with which we connect.
As he observes, "Just as there are multiple social networks on the Internet such as Facebook and Twitter, each with its own strengths, there are also multiple social networks in our brains, sets of brain regions that work together to promote our social well-being. These networks each have their own strengths, and they have emerged at different points in their evolutionary history moving from vertebrates to mammals to primates to us, Homo sapiens. Additionally, these same evolutionary steps are recapitulated in the same order in childhood."
Connection: Over time, humans have developed a capacity "to feel social pains and pleasures, forever linking our well-being to our connectedness." The more connected we are, the more secure we feel and the happier we are.
Mindreading: Humans have also developed "an unparalleled ability to understand the actions and thoughts of those around them, enhancing their ability to stay connected and interact strategically." This allows people to create groups that can "implement nearly any idea and to anticipate the needs and wants of those around us, keeping our groups moving smoothly."
Harmonizing: "The sense of self is one of the most evolutionary gifts we have received. Although the self may appear to be a mechanism for distinguishing us from others and perhaps accentuating our selfishness, the self actually operates as a powerful force for social effectiveness." We connect or agree to have others connect with us when our wish is to be social. We harmonize when we are willing to allow group beliefs and values to influence our own. In a phrase, our wish is to "blend in."
These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Lieberman's coverage in the first seven of twelve chapters:
o Social Networks for Social Networks (Pages 9-12)
o Default Social Cognition (19-23)
o The Social Brain Hypothesis (31-33)
o Inverting Maslow (41-43)
o The Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Human Pain (50-54)
o Our Alarm System (61-64)
o Sticks and Stones (66-70)
o Varieties of Reward, and, Working Together (79-83)
o The Axiom of Self-Interest (83-86)
o Why Are Social Rewards Rewarding? (92-95)
o Everyday Mindreading (105-109)
o A System for General Intelligence (112-115)
o A System for Social Intelligence (115-118)
o Social Thinking Is for Social Living (120-123)
o Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect (126-129)
o The Miracle of Mentalizing (129-130)
o Mindreading Mirrors? and, Cracks in the Mirror (137-143)
o Making the Social World Possible (149-150)
o I Feel Your Pain (152-155)
o Being a Social Alien (161-165)
o The Broken Mirror Hypothesis (168-172)
o Social Cognition (177-178)
It would be a good idea to keep these three brain regions in mind -- Connection, Mindreading, and Harmonizing -- when involved with one or more social media. To a varying degree, in different ways, they shape what Lieberman characterizes as "the social mind." This is perhaps what he had in his own mind when pointing out that, to the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, "this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth."
Matthew Lieberman duly acknowledges that there is yet a great deal more to learn about man's sociality from psychology, neuroscience, and beyond. That said, "we have a great opportunity to reshape our society and its institutions to maximize our own potential, both as individuals and together as a society."
Let's all hope that, sooner than later, the process of natural selection -- guided and informed by principles of the social brain -- will enable the humanity we share to overcome will overcome and eventually eliminate the inhumanity that endangers so much of the world today.