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Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect    by Matthew D. Lieberman order for
by Matthew D. Lieberman
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Anita Lock

'We are wired to be social. We are driven by deep motivations to stay connected with friends and family.' These are profound statements by Lieberman, especially considering that he has solid proof to back up his claims based on a procedure that precisely measures brain activity: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Studies that were performed to determine how the human brain responds to the social world by using fMRI have reinforced how our brains are wired to connect with other people. The goal of this book, as Lieberman declares, 'is to get clear about who we are as social creatures and to reveal how a more accurate understanding of our social nature can improve our lives and our society.'

To prove his point, Lieberman guides readers in understanding how our brains have evolved by purposefully grouping his information into five parts: beginnings; connection; mindreading; harmonizing; and smarter, happier, more productive. Beginnings gives readers a quick overview of the book, which focuses on three major adaptations in our brains (connection, mindreading, and harmonizing), and how we can use what we learn through these adaptations to improve our world in meaningful ways, thereby making us smarter, happier, and more productive. He also explains the brain's ultimate passion and preferred state of being every chance that it has, which is to think socially.

Lieberman explains that the first adaptation, connection, spotlights our most basic survival needs. We all desire to feel connected and affirmed of our existence through praises and rewards, and the lack of these elements creates pain. This pain is generally associated with our emotional well being and is described in this section as social pain. The fascinating aspect of social pain is that, according to the fMRI data, it is closely related to physical pain. Ironically, each pain is treated differently in society. While the antidote for physical pain is to get medical help of one form or other (and people can justifiably take off a day of work because of it), we are basically told 'You'll be ok. Just get over it!' when we have a relationship breakup.

Connection enables us to utilize the second adaptation, mindreading, to develop our relationships with others. Mindreading has nothing to do with the mystic ability to read minds, but rather our ability to understand that other people have like-minded thoughts, or mentalizing. Mentalizing is also strongly connected with imitating others, and these processes help to develop yet another process: empathy. Lastly, Lieberman explains how an autistic brain affects this second adaptation.

The third adaptation, harmonizing, centers on self - self-awareness and self-recognition - and how we can embrace an identity that harmoniously centers on our relationships to friends and loved ones. In our struggle for identity and to fit in with the rest of the world, Lieberman contends that 'once we stop trying to define ourselves exclusively in terms of our uniqueness and accept a more balanced social identity, we often feel that we are finally who we are meant to be.' This development of self-identity in the social realm is linked with self-control, which can affect how we function in the service of following society's norms.

After nine chapters of incredible cranial information, Lieberman deals with the question that is often associated with newfound knowledge: So now what do we do? To put it quite bluntly, Lieberman says that as a society, 'we're blowing it,' since there has been a steady decline in nearly all things social regarding marriage, volunteering, participating in social groups, and entertaining people in our homes. To top it off, U.S. schools are not providing proper social development tools because social thinking is penalized in the classroom, particularly in middle school. Lieberman believes that 'the real solution is to stop making the social brain the enemy during class time and figure out how to engage the social brain as part of the learning process.' And he does offer solutions, which educators will find extremely helpful and hopeful to our troubled educational system.

Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect is a ground-breaking book on how our brains are truly wired to be social - plain and simple. Kudos go to Lieberman, who has the ability to take heady material (no pun intended) and translate it into words all can understand - for the betterment of society. Definitely, a must-read!

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