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Social summary

Matthew D. Lieberman

Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

4.3 (91 ratings)
18 mins

What is Social about?

Social (2013) is a whistlestop tour led by noted psychologist Matthew Lieberman through the latest neuroscientific research into our social lives. Foregrounding the deeply human need for connection, these blinks examine how evolution has molded the ways in which we navigate complex social situations. Packed full of original research conducted in the Lieberman’s UCLA lab, Social shows that getting along with others is a primary driver in all our lives.

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    summarized in 6 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 6

    Our brains have a built-in passion for thinking socially.

    In 1997, Gordon Schulman and his colleagues at Washington University published a scientific paper which looked at an unusual question about the human brain. What, they asked, is it up to when it’s not engaged in any specific task? The answer was surprising. When we’re resting, a part of the brain known as the “default network” springs into action. So what’s going on – why would our minds turn on when we’re switching off?

    Well, that’s where “social thinking” comes into play. When we’re unoccupied, we often end up idly mulling over our place in the social order and our relationships with other people. Scientists call that social cognition. Research indicates that it’s always the same region of the brain that turns on when we’re engaged in that type of mental activity, suggesting that the human mind comes equipped with a special tool to help us understand social affairs.

    According to the author, the default network is a product of evolution that automatically nudges us into using our downtime to dwell on human interaction. Take newborn babies, for example. Research shows that their default networks are already active long before they’re able to consciously reflect on the world around them.

    As a result we spend an extraordinary amount of time contemplating social interaction. How much? Well, let’s start with an article published in the journal Human Nature in 1997, which found that a good 70 percent of what we talk about is directly related to social matters. If we then make the pretty conservative estimate that our default networks are active for at least 20 percent of the 15 hours we’re awake each day, that leaves us with three hours a day spent on social thinking.

    To put that into perspective, consider Malcolm Gladwell’s famous claim in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before we become experts in any given area. That would mean that every one of us is a bonafide expert on social living by the age of just ten!

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    About the Author

    Matthew D. Lieberman is a professor of psychology and director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles. His work has been published in numerous journals including Science, Nature and American Psychologist. In 2007, he received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology.

    Who should read Social?

    • People working in teams
    • Anyone who’s wondered why a “broken heart” is so painful
    • Amateur psychologists

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