The Social Brain and its Superpowers

"In the classroom, being social is treated as the enemy of learning, but it turns out that if you learn in order to teach someone else, you learn better than if you learn in order to take a test."

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Dr. Matthew Lieberman is one of the foremost authorities on the study of Social Neuroscience. He 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. His research focuses on social cognitive neuroscience and uses neuroimaging (fMRI) to examine how we make sense of others, ourselves, and the relation between the two. His most recent book,  Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connectexplores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience that reveals the essential and fundamental need for social interaction in every aspect of our lives.

Click here to read a review of this book by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings 

Here's a brief excerpt from Dr. Matthew Lieberman's TED talk, just to give a little preview of the types of ideas Lieberman discusses and how they relate to learning:

"If I asked you what you needed to survive, most of you might say food, water and shelter. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs, suggests that these physical needs are the most basic and that other needs only become relevant when these needs have been met. But Maslow had it wrong... as a mammal (and especially as a human) what you need more than anything to survive is social connection, because mammals are born incapable of taking care of themselves. You only survived infancy because someone had such an urge to connect with you that every time they were separated from you or heard you cry, it caused them a social pain that motivated them to come find you and help you, over and over again. And as infants, you cry when you are hungry, thirsty or cold... but you also cry when you are simply separated from your caregiver, because social separation causes pain.

You might think that our tendency to feel social pain is a kind of kryptonite, but our urge to connect and the pain we feel when this need is thwarted, is one of the seminal achievements of our brain that motivates us to live, work and play together. You might have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can't connect with other people, nothing will come of it. You can't build a rocketship by yourself. Rather than being a kryptonite, our capacity for social pain, is one of our greatest superpowers. So if social pain keeps us close to important others, what is our kryptonite? Not appreciating the value of of social superpowers IS our kryptonite. 

In the classroom, being social is treated as the enemy of learning, but it turns out that if you learn in order to teach someone else, you learn better than if you learn in order to take a test. Research in my lab and in another shows that when you're socially motivated to learn, your social brain can do the learning, and it can do it better than the analytic network that you typically activate when you try to memorize."