The Social Animal | David Brooks

Summary of: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
By: David Brooks


Dive into the fascinating world of ‘The Social Animal’ by David Brooks and discover the hidden sources of love, character, and achievement. This book summary explores the subconscious forces that drive our behavior, from deep-rooted instincts and intuitive emotions to cultural conformity and the power of social connections. Deconstruct the importance of physical traits in romantic attraction and reveal the surprisingly strong impact of minor cues on our decisions. Understand the role of emotions in moral judgment, the significance of self-control and sensitivity for success, and why high intelligence doesn’t always guarantee a fulfilling life. Prepare to challenge conventional wisdom and uncover the extraordinary abilities of the non-rational, human mind.

The Science of Falling in Love

Have you ever wondered what makes us fall in love? According to studies, we are subconsciously attracted to people who resemble us and share our background. Couples tend to live close to each other and share similar attitudes, expectations, and interests. Additionally, there are generic physical features that we find enticing: heterosexual women prefer tall men with symmetrical facial features, while heterosexual men prefer women with a hip-to-waist ratio of roughly 0.7, along with full lips, clear skin, and lustrous hair. These preferences are not just cultural, but universal across the globe. Finally, researchers have discovered that women are more sexually attracted to men with large pupils. In summary, falling in love may not be entirely random but is influenced by a complex interplay of physical and psychological factors.

The Subtle Yet Powerful Influence of Cues on Behavior

Our behavior is not entirely under our control. Minor cues play a significant role in altering our actions and decisions. A study showed that reading words associated with aging or aggressiveness led to subjects walking slower or interrupting more frequently, respectively. Additionally, the initial presentation of something greatly influences our judgment. For instance, a $30 bottle of wine seems more expensive when presented beside cheaper options, but cheap when surrounded by costlier goods. Even our prognosis depends on how it’s presented to us- people are more likely to choose a procedure with an 85% success rate than a 15% failure rate. These cues and presentations have a significant impact on our decisions, suggesting that our choices are not always rational.

Hunger, Weather, and Judgment

How Hunger and Weather Affect Our Judgement and Perception

Have you ever wondered how hunger and weather affect our perception of situations and decision-making? It turns out that they play a significant role in our judgment. Even judges, who are supposed to make objective decisions, are not immune to the effects of hunger. Research shows that judges grant more paroles after eating compared to when they are hungry. Furthermore, they are more lenient before their meal breaks. Our perception of life also depends on the weather as much as our actual experiences. On sunny days, we tend to see life in a more positive light, while on gloomy days, life seems less sunny. The weather can influence the way we evaluate our lives. This raises the question of whether our seemingly rational decisions are just hiccups in our otherwise ethical judgment.

The Source of Our Morality

Our moral judgment can be based on either deliberate reasoning or moral intuition. Moral rationalism holds that we make moral decisions logically by applying universal principles to specific situations. These principles can range from “don’t kill other people” to “maximize community welfare.” Moral intuitionism, on the other hand, argues that our moral judgment is based on intuition, guided by a sense of compassion or fairness. According to intuitionism, egoistic impulses can be conquered by our inner moral sense, while rationalism posits a power struggle between our instincts and moral principles. For instance, if you have marital issues and an attractive person asks you out, your rational self may tell you not to cheat on your partner, while your instinct might urge you to say yes. However, intuitionism claims that you might feel guilty before consulting your moral principles because of a sense of moral responsibility.

Morality: Rational or Intuitional?

Moral decisions are not always a product of rational deliberation but, instead, heavily influenced by intuition and emotions. Psychopaths, despite their reasoning abilities, often make amoral choices due to their limited intuition. Similarly, people tend to have immediate moral reactions before conscious reasoning, which doesn’t play a significant role in their moral decision-making. Babies too, as young as six months old, make moral choices from intuitive preferences. The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics study found that individuals react with evaluative feelings on hearing moral statements before conscious reasoning begins. Overall, while rationalism plays a role in moral decision-making, intuition and emotions are the primary drivers.

The Importance of Emotions in Decision Making

Emotions play a crucial role in decision making. People without emotions, even if they have intelligence, tend to make bad choices or none at all. Research by Antonio Damasio shows that emotions help us evaluate the subjective value of different options and provide feedback about risky decisions. Without this emotional feedback, people lack the incentives to choose and end up finding it difficult to make decisions. Therefore, emotions are necessary for rational choice and making good decisions in life.

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