Social Brain

The brain is a social animal. Social connections such as a sense of status, etc., are as important as food, shelter and water for the brain. By experiencing others' emotions, we get to know each other, such as by sharing personal experiences.
Safe social connections with others are vital for the health and for good collaboration. Much work is required to create good collaboration as it is too easy to mis-read social cues and allow limbic responses to dominate. . Our memories of social interactions are vast. The social network involves the medial prefrontal cortex, the right and left ventrolateral cortex, the anterior cingulated cortex, insula and amygdale. The social network bias is something we are born with, ie new-born babies prefer a picture of a face. In our priorities of needs, social needs are on the same level for basic survival as food and water, ie threat and pain responses activate similar responses in the network as being ostracized. This challenges Maslow's hierarchy of needs which locates social needs in the middle. Social relatedness is, in fact, a primary need of the brain.

Importance of body language, especially facial expression, in developing relatedness. We need the visual interaction. The stronger the emotions, the greater the impact
There are "mirror neurons"that occur when someone does something you are familiar with, ie your brain mirrors others' behaviours after witnessing someone else's action. This activates the same circuits in your brain
Safe social connections with others are vital for health and for effective collaboration. Much work/interaction is required to create such refined collaboration as it is otherwise too easy to mis-read social cues and allow limbic responses to dominate

People are classified as friend or foe quickly (as with the reward or threat response); "foe"is the brain's default choice in the absence of positive cues. There are different brain circuits for handling friend or foe. "Friend"generates a "toward"emotional response which releases oxytocin (a pleasurable chemical). This explains why developing rapport with strangers can be important as it provides the chance to connect at a human level.
Deciding that someone is a foe or competitor results in your brain making accidental connections, misreading intent, becoming easily upset and discarding their good ideas.
Importance of quality & quantity of social connections - the brain thrives on quality social connections, ie happiness and performance increases with release of good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocins. Loneliness can increase risk of health issues like heart, etc. Loneliness generates a threat response
People who have effective, positive social networks (thus less threat) perform better, eg better thinking (including creativity, seeing others' points of view, etc), planning, controlling emotions, etc.

Verbalising an idea activates more parts of your brain (including memory and language regions and motor centres) than just thinking about it. This improves your learning, retention, etc.

Key point:

. Whenever you meet somebody new, endeavour to connect at a human level as soon as possible to reduce the threat response; share personal experience, stories, etc; actively encourage people to connect on a human level.


. A sense of fairness or unfairness is a correspondingly primary reward or threat. This again disputes Maslow's hierarchy concept as a sense of unfairness may be stronger than an empty stomach!!!
. Inequity aversion is so strong that people are willing to sacrifice personal gain to prevent another from receiving an inequitable better outcome.
. Increasing sense of fairness coincides with increased levels of dopamine, serotonin & oxytocin. This results in being more open to new ideas and a willingness to connect with others
. When we experience unfairness, the response goes to the part of the brain that experiences disgust, ie anterior insula
. Need to be open and transparent in dealings with people.
. Increase fairness by volunteering, regularly donating resources to the poor or under-privileged, etc. Brain analysis clearly shows a greater positive response when giving, rather than receiving.
. Balancing and linking fairness and expectations explains the delight we experience from the kindness of a stranger; this is greater as it is unexpected. On the other hand, there is intense negative emotion after betrayal by people close to you
. Concept of fairness is a key driver of behaviour
. Define an unfair situation by using labeling (put into words your feelings) or reappraisal (looking at the situation from different perspectives)
. Males are less likely to show empathy with someone who is in pain and who has been treated unfair; whereas females do
. Punishing unfair people can be rewarding, and not punishing unfairness can increase the feeling of unfairness
Need to be careful of fairness being linked to other issues such as certainty, autonomy and relatedness Status . There are many aspects to status. It is relative; there is no universal scale for status. It involves a sense of reward in feeling superior; this influences the way you interact with others
. It is a significant driver of behaviour and people pay a lot of attention to protecting and building their status. It operates at an individual or group level. The desire to protect and/or increase status has resulted in incredible feats of endurance and achievement, both good and bad. The response can be visceral and limbic, and generates activity in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulated cortex. The 5 different parts of the brain that experience physical pain are also activated by social pain, such as exclusion and/or rejection.
. If you feel that your status is at threat, the response (mostly limbic) will be strong, ie flight or fight. Remember: the limbic system, once aroused, makes accidental connections and thinks pessimistically. People will avoid taking responsibility; people don't like being wrong, they prefer to be right
. An improving sense of status activates the reward circuits, while a reducing sense of status activates threat circuitry.
. Need to be aware when other people's status is threatened; can reduce this threat by sharing your own mistakes, giving positive feedback, sharing your humanity, praising others, etc
. Need to understand your own status desires
. Just talking with a person of higher status generally activates a status threat.
. Seeking higher status can have a negative impact on other people


"...Shifting other people's attention from a threat state to focusing on what you want them to focus on is the central challenge to creating real change..."

David Rock, 2009

. Giving feedback, using problem-solving and providing solutions may not be the best way to help people improve their performance. As this involves locating negative things from your memory, they are perceived as threats. This also uses up limited (brain) resources, so that less are available to handle the next problem and thus more negative connections will increase, which further lowers our brain energy state.
. Another way is to use goal setting. It gets you focused, especially if a "towards goal"
Develop ways to make feedback valuable by rewarding people


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