Thursday, March 3, 2016

Our social brain

Humans are highly social beings. We like to be surrounded by friends and share our personal experiences with others. The recent appearance of various social networking tools, and their adoption at a virtually explosive rate, nicely illustrate the strong and fundamental human desire for social belonging and interpersonal exchange. I’ve been writing about the social brain for years – as well, our fascination with the celebrity subculture.

In most cases, this is perfectly natural. The social creatures in us live in an environment where it paid to pay attention to the people at the top. Celebrity fascination may be an outgrowth of this tendency, nourished by the media and technology. So a chance meeting with Peter Fitzsimons recently redirected my thoughts – asking myself what I’ve really learned about the Human psyche and what is arguably the most complex of systems – our cerebrum.

We know that evolutionary processes have favored the development of complex social behaviours in humans, along with the brain architecture that supports them. The Human brain is of course as compared to other primates and mammals of similar size. This is particularly interesting because the neocortex comprises many of the brain areas involved in higher social cognition, such as conscious thought, language, behavioral and emotion regulation, as well as empathy and theory of mind - our ability to understand the feelings and intentions of others. We are, so to speak, biologically hardwired for interacting with others, and are thus said to be endowed with a social brain.

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