Social | Matthew D. Lieberman

Summary of: Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect
By: Matthew D. Lieberman


Dive into the fascinating world of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman, as we explore the human brain’s innate affinity for social thinking. In this engrossing book, discover how the ‘default network’ in our brains instinctually prompts us to dwell on social interactions, how our social needs and mentalizing abilities develop over time, and the impact of our social surroundings on self-control. We’ll also examine how our sense of ‘self’ is influenced by societal beliefs and values and reveal the significant role social factors play in our overall happiness and workplace success.

The Innate Social Brain

The brain’s “default network” becomes active during downtime prompting us to contemplate social interaction, a concept called “social cognition.” This tool for understanding social affairs is innate and a result of evolution, even present in newborn babies. Research suggests that we spend roughly three hours a day on social thinking, making us all experts in social living by the age of ten.

The Importance of Social Needs

The human brain is a complex machine that requires nurturing care for proper development. Caregivers provide the most crucial need for newborns, and mammals have a built-in system that triggers distress signals when threatened. Social needs are essential to our well-being and wired into our brains. We experience “social pain” similarly to physical agony. This concept was supported by a study using an fMRI scanner that showed that both types of pain activate the same area of the brain.

Our Mind-Reading Abilities

Humans are wired to read each other’s minds to a certain extent. This mentalizing ability helps us understand the thoughts behind people’s behavior, which scientists call theory of mind. Mentalizing happens all the time and is not limited to humans. We tend to see motives in everything we see, as demonstrated in studies. However, mentalizing is a complex process that takes time to learn, as demonstrated by the Sally-Anne task carried out in the 1980s.

The Social Brain

The brain is wired for social behavior and our sense of self is heavily influenced by the social world. Our beliefs and values are transported by the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), the part of the brain activated when we talk about ourselves or what others think about us. A study by Lieberman showed that our intentions and behavior are shaped by the social environment. The MPFC also plays a role in increasing sunscreen usage among respondents who were shown pro-sunscreen infomercials.

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