Wednesday, 25 September 2013

#2013NLS - Matthew Lieberman and the Social Landscape

I'm at the first UK based Neuro Leadership Summit today and we're starting with UCLA based social researcher, Matthew Lieberman, plus the CIPD's Peter Cheese, on navigating the social landscape.

Lieberman's perspective on social is focused around how are brains are wired to connect (his recent book explains why.)

So for example if we reflect on our most painful experiences they tend to be connected with relationships.  However, although we accept a broken leg caused us real pain we tend to think of social pain as more of a metaphor.  That's not really the case - a broken heart is real.  We can see the brain is more active when people are included in social activities.  And paracetemol treats social pain too.

Why are we built this way?  Is it useful that social pain can inhibit us - is it a great evolutionary mishap?  We need air, food, shelter - and an iPhone of course.  Maslow suggests other needs only kick in when these basic needs are satisfied.  But actually, mammals need social interaction too - we can't survive when we are born unless there is someone taking care of us - someone who is so interested in us that they help us time and time again.  So Lieberman puts social needs at the bottom of his pyramid.

As well as social pain, we've activated by social pleasures - social rewards including people, drugs and money.  Particular ping points include having someone you love send a message about how much they love you.  Having strangers tell you they respect you.  Giving money and other things to others.  Holding someone's hand as they go through something stressful.

But the prevalent view is that we can motivate people by money.  And we are selfish creatures, but we're not just selfish.  Our desire to connect with each others is a basic truth about ourselves.  It's basic state about ourselves.  A social super power!

So its's interesting that in terms of money given, time spent etc, Facebook is our third biggest religion.  What is the value of this behaviour?  Economists suggest the equivalent value of spending time with good friends is about $100k per year.  Volunteering has the same effect of increasing salary from $20 to $70k.  When kids give toys to others they look much happier than way they are given the same toys.  There is an intrinsic joy in this.


You can see the impact of social in the way we act constantly as mind readers.  They're not perfect - the secret is to predict the way others predict the way we will behave.  This gives us a great opportunity for cooperation and collaboration.  We need to be able to think intelligently about your goals and feelings.  It's another social super power.

Is it a general example of our ability to think analytically.  No - we have a separate brain system in the mid-line of the brain vs our pre-frontal lobe for this type of thinking - mentalising = thinking about the minds of other people.

An important point about this social network is that other types of thinking tends to shut it down.  They're on a see saw - they're not just distinct, they're oppositional.  Analytical thinking stops us mentalising.

We need to help businesses give time and focus on this social type of thinking.  Eg just give people breaks between maths problems so our brains can switch back into social networking mode.  Also, showing a picture of a brain helps us get behind people's actions and understand what they were thinking and feeling behind this.


the third social superpower is thinking about yourself - as this is normally done in terms of how do you fit into a group, and this is done by the same social network.


Because the social kryponite is that we forget about the power of social - it doesn't stay salient.

For example when kids are asked how connected they feel at school - the US comes last, and there's lots of bullying - verbal and cyber as well as physical.  And it takes place in the workplace too.  We are increasingly aware of the major mental health consequences but we forget about the performance impacts - when we leave the playground and are back in the classroom and we're no longer being bulled.  It continues because we're still impacted by that physical pain.  Same when it's social but we tend to think people should just get over it.  IQ and GRE test scores drop after people have been rejected.

Also re learning in classrooms and businesses - being social is the best way to learn but we tend to discount the social behaviour.  Prosocial behaviour (preparing to teach someone else) is more useful than prepping to take a test.  This isn't about consolidation through teaching - it's just preparing to do it.  Because this involves a different mental system.  Productivity is hugely increased by focusing on how you are helping other people.


What about leadership?  If a leader is very analytical and results focused very little chance they will be seen as a great leader.  But chance sky rockets if they also have good social skills - acts as a multiplier.  Needs both - social skills on their own don't work either.


We need a clearer focus on these social super powers - it's important.  Eg we know giving physical rewards activates dopamine in the brain.  But so does praise and it doesn't cost anything!!!

We need to understand them analytically - and practice enough to make part of our gut processing.  And we're not at that point yet!


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