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Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

Overview

We are profoundly social creatures – more than we know. 

In Social, renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.  Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a ...

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Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

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Overview

We are profoundly social creatures – more than we know. 

In Social, renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.  Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a skill.  According to Lieberman, each of us has spent 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people and groups by the time we are ten.
 
Social argues that our need to reach out to and connect with others is a primary driver behind our behavior.  We believe that pain and pleasure alone guide our actions.  Yet, new research using fMRI – including a great deal of original research conducted by Lieberman and his UCLA lab — shows that our brains react to social pain and pleasure in much the same way as they do to physical pain and pleasure.  Fortunately, the brain has evolved sophisticated mechanisms for securing our place in the social world.  We have a unique ability to read other people’s minds, to figure out their hopes, fears, and motivations, allowing us to effectively coordinate our lives with one another.  And our most private sense of who we are is intimately linked to the important people and groups in our lives.  This wiring often leads us to restrain our selfish impulses for the greater good.  These mechanisms lead to behavior that might seem irrational, but is really just the result of our deep social wiring and necessary for our success as a species.
 
Based on the latest cutting edge research, the findings in Social have important real-world implications.  Our schools and businesses, for example, attempt to minimalize social distractions.  But this is exactly the wrong thing to do to encourage engagement and learning, and literally shuts down the social brain, leaving powerful neuro-cognitive resources untapped.  The insights revealed in this pioneering book suggest ways to improve learning in schools, make the workplace more productive, and improve our overall well-being.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"Man is by nature a social animal." In the thousands of years since he said it, Aristotle's statement has been reduced to a truism. Recently however, advanced functional MRI research has demonstrated that we are hardwired to connect in ways that no Greek philosopher ever imagined. At the forefront of this exciting breakthrough is social neuroscientist Matthew D. Lieberman. This new book draws on original research from his UCLA lab to reveal how social needs are often just as primary and, indeed, sometimes even more important than our need for food or shelter. (P.S. Social possesses real world implications: Today's workplaces and educational settings are often designed to minimize, not optimize social interactions.)

Publishers Weekly
It seems natural that when a person is rewarded with a cash prize there is intense activity in the pleasure centers of his or her brain. But why do we experience neurally identical pleasure when giving away money? Why is the emotional pain of being left out of a game of catch identical to that of physical injury? Using the latest research in neuroscience, Lieberman, an award-winning social psychologist, shows readers how their brains may be wired, first and foremost, to harmonize and connect with others, rather than simply to act in their own interests. With the help of new functional MRI technology, Lieberman explores the surprising new science of social interaction, investigating how our perceptions of others affect our cognition and, even more elementally, how social interaction and its absence can produce the same mental responses as physical pain and pleasure, as well as what that fact might mean about the evolution of the brain. Lieberman’s findings are convincing: over the course of their evolution, humans have developed sophisticated means of responding to group challenges and the norms of altruism and cohesion have become ingrained in neural biology. The end of the book outlines how to integrate social cognition into teaching and management. Social is a far-ranging and sometimes long-winded introduction to how humans think together. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
Lieberman (Psychology, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences/UCLA) offers scientific evidence to counter the idea that the need to survive and reproduce is the fundamental driver of human behavior. The author rejects Abraham Maslow's 1943 formulation of a hierarchy of needs stacked in a pyramid, suggesting that the pyramid is upside down. Physiological needs and safety are at the bottom, followed by social needs and esteem, which Lieberman describes as "the extra scoops of ice cream" and "cherry on top." He shows countervailing evidence, amassed over the past two decades, that shows social needs to be as basic as their physiological counterparts. Using MRI, the author and his associates have identified a separate area of the brain in which social cognition occurs. It is activated when we "think about other people's minds…[and] promotes understanding and empathy, cooperation, and consideration." Along with the capacity for empathy provided by mirror neurons, which we share with other species, it is the part of the brain that we use when we think "about the social world and our place in it." It also allows us to function effectively in the larger social groups that are typical of human societies, as compared to other primates, and to function collectively in more complex ways. Mammalian young depend on a caretaker from the moment of their birth in order to survive. "Our need for connection is the bedrock upon which the others are built," writes the author. Empathy, love and our need for social connections follow. A fascinating explanation of why "a broken heart can feel as painful as a broken leg" and social recognition is frequently prized above money.
From the Publisher
“We are an intensely social species.  Everyone knows that.  But, from that basic truth, Matthew Lieberman mines a mother lode of insights that are both unexpected and genuinely worth using to better our lives.” -Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence

"Absolutely fascinating — necessary, even." -Brain Pickings

“Compelling evidence is emerging that shows that, more than money or other extrinsic incentives, the human brain gets a hefty reward by forging connections with others. That evidence, much of it uncovered by Lieberman, a pioneer of social cognitive neuroscience, is presented in a collegial manner in this often-surprising account… With the details from study after study, many of them based on imaging scans that examine activity in certain parts of the brain, Lieberman’s book is perfect for Malcolm Gladwell fans who want to delve much deeper into the biology behind our social abilities. The investigations reveal the impressive social abilities we hold, often unappreciated but noticeable when lacking in others, and so ingrained they may influence our very sense of self.” –Booklist

“Social reveals that our brains are made for connecting, not only for thinking. Matt Lieberman, a pioneering expert in social neuroscience, explains why fairness tastes like chocolate, why heartache can hurt more than a headache, and how we can use this knowledge to improve our lives at home, school, and work.” -Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take

"Social is the book I've been waiting for: a brilliant and beautiful exploration of how and why we are wired together, by one of the field's most prescient pioneers." -Daniel Gilbert, professor, Harvard University, bestselling author of Stumbling On Happiness

“Social is as full of surprising twists and insights as a Dan Brown novel (and as fun to read, too).  Social unmasks the secret to our success as a species - our fundamentally social nature - and explains the origins, brain bases, and everyday applicability of our social superpowers.”  -Kevin Ochsner, professor, Columbia University
 
"One of the most compelling and engaging books about how human beings really work that I've ever read. It literally changed how I see the world." -David Rock, director, NeuroLeadership Institute, author of Your Brain at Work
 
“At last, a book that really does put the social into social neuroscience, and, more importantly, does it in a way that layman and scientist alike can read with pleasure.” -Robin Dunbar, Professor, University of Oxford
 
"Vivid stories and cutting-edge neuroscience come together to explain just how connected we really are.  Lieberman's prose is fluid, and his ideas fascinating, making Social a must-read pleasure for anyone who cares about the  human condition and the science that reveals us as social beings." – Susan Fiske, Professor, Princeton University

“This fascinating, beautifully written book brings the exciting research on our social nature and the brain to life” – Shelley Taylor, distinguished professor, UCLA, author of The Tending Instinct

"Humans are exquisitely social. This is a beautifully written and compelling account of how and why this is the case, written by one of the world’s leading authorities on the social brain. Matthew Lieberman covers multiple areas of cutting edge research, including studies of primate social groups, the psychology of human love and friendship, and the brain basis of empathy and altruism. This captivating book will enthrall a very wide audience, from the general reader who has no previous knowledge of the brain to students and academics in the field of cognitive neuroscience and social psychology." - Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor, University College of London

"A highly engaging read from one of the pioneers of the emerging field of social cognitive neuroscience. By reviewing what has recently been discovered about unique human talents, such as self-control, mindreading, empathy, Lieberman presents a compelling case that the human brain is wired to be social.  Highly recommended for its accessible introduction to social neuroscience as well as its practical lessons for living more satisfying lives." -Todd Heatherton, Lincoln Filene Professor, Dartmouth College
 
"In this engaging book, Mathew Lieberman, one of the leaders and pioneers in social neuroscience, shows how and why our brains are wired to connect, how that influences what we think, feel, and do, and makes it clear why it matters." -Walter Mischel, Niven Professor of Humane Letters in Psychology, Columbia University
 
"The scientific field that became cognitive neuroscience began in the 19th century, strangely enough, with discoveries on the human brain's language processing.  Not long after, however, the isolated case of Phineas Gage tumbled onto the scene and announced, more than a century in advance, what would become social neuroscience.  In “Social”, Matthew Lieberman, one of the leaders of this now-established effort, provides a thoughtful and lively review of recent findings and of the implications for this important area of inquiry." -Antonio Damasio, USC professor and author of Descartes’ Error and Self Comes to Mind
 

Library Journal
09/15/2013
Renowned psychologist Lieberman (psychology, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; founding editor, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience) takes a close look at just how essential it is to maintain an active social life and connect to others in order to survive. He flips Maslow's hierarchy of needs (which ranks social needs as less crucial than physiological and security needs) on its head and, with clear examples and current research in social cognitive neuroscience, claims that social connectedness is our first true need in life. Without these connections, he notes, our species would never have survived. Lieberman equates social pain and rejection with physical pain and social rewards with pleasure. He discusses our need for acceptance, recognition, and connection in all aspects of our lives, from school to work to our personal relationships. Now, with the Internet and the explosion of social media, there has been a huge shift in how we connect, but has it really made us more social? Lieberman's book addresses this question. VERDICT All readers—business professionals, educators, and users of social media in particular—can apply Lieberman's text to their daily lives. Recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/13.]—Jill Morningstar, Michigan State Univ. Libs., East Lansing
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307889096
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 230,442
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Mathew D. Lieberman was trained at Harvard University and is a professor in the Departments of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the founding editor of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.  In 2007, the American Psychological Association awarded him the Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, an award given to one social psychologist every two years.  He is one of the foremost authorities in the world on the study of Social Neuroscience.

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