The Social Animal Summary


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Originally published at: https://blog.12min.com/the-social-animal-summary/

The Social Animal SummaryMicroSummary: Have you stopped to think about how the human mind works? In all its complexity, our head is capable of fantastic things, and that is why some people are dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of our mind. New York Times columnist David Brooks explores human nature and some crucial issues in our development in this book. Some of the topics addressed by the author are the way our mind works, our decision-making process and the influence of our unconscious on our way of life. You will understand how your IQ affects your success, how your emotions impact your decisions and the importance of your unconscious. Want to know a little more about the workings of the human mind? Come with us, and we will show you!

"The Social Animal Summary"

Instinctive Human Decisions

Any kid has a list of characteristics of his dream girl. But there is a great chance that, once this kid grows up, he will fall in love with someone who does not fit his criteria.

Why does this happen? Because we are drawn unconsciously by people who resemble us and who have similar facial features. For example, if our noses have a similar width and if there is a comparable distance between our eyes.

Also, we are attracted to people who share our educational, economic, and ethnic characteristics.

A 1950 study found that more than half of the married couples in Columbus, Ohio, lived only 16 blocks away when they started dating. Also, 37% of couples lived 5 miles - or about 8 miles - apart from each other.

We are more likely to fall in love with people who share our attitudes, expectations, and interests. Despite this, we also wobble toward people with specific generic physical characteristics.

We have some instincts that tell us certain preferences: men usually use their eyes to choose; women value confidence and are 70% better at remembering details. But they are also attracted to men with different DNA characteristics.

For example, on average, heterosexual women prefer tall men with symmetrical facial features, who are a little older and stronger than them.

Researchers also showed that women are more sexually attracted to men with large pupils.

And, according to a large study conducted around the world, men prefer women with a hip-waist ratio of 0.7. Although the hip-waist ratio is the most important factor, men also like women with large lips, clean skin and shiny hair.

Influences Over Our Choices

Although we believe that we are in control of our behavior, several researchers have already shown that small things can influence us a lot. Even a few words can activate large associations, changing our behavior.

For example, one study made people read some words loosely associated with the elderly: “mothballs,” “antiquity,” and “knitting.” Then, when the people being tested left the room, the researchers noticed that they walked more slowly than when they arrived.

In the same study, other people read words related to aggressiveness, such as “rude” or “intruder.” Similarly, people began to interrupt each other more often.

Moreover, the way we judge something depends on how it is presented to us. For example, a $ 20 wine bottle might seem cheap if you’re surrounded by other more expensive merchandise like a $ 230 wine bottle.

And that’s why wine shops expose their most expensive bottles, even if no one buys them.

These little things also play an important role in issues such as someone’s predictions. Imagine a surgeon telling his patient that a procedure has a 90% success rate. Now imagine that it counts differently, saying that there is a 10% failure rate.

As you can imagine, the patient is much more likely to choose the prognosis focused on the success rate.

Theories About Moral Judgment

According to the view of some philosophers, moral judgment is based on deliberate reasoning. And this is called moral rationalism. Its proponents claim that we make moral decisions logically, applying universal principles to a given situation.

These universal principles can range from “do not steal” to “seek the welfare of society”.

According to moral rationalism, there is a power struggle between our primitive, selfish instinct on the one hand, and our moral principles on the other.

And if we want to act morally, we must have the willpower to subdue our selfish drives that are hidden in our subconscious.

For example, imagine that you have some problems in your dating and meet an attractive person who calls you to leave. Although your instincts may persuade you to say yes, your moral principles are there to prevent you betraying your partner.

Let’s now look at an opposing view, moral intuitionism that states that our moral judgment is based on our intuition and not on our reason.

Intuitionists assert that not all our impulses and intuitions are selfish, and that human beings have an inner moral sense to guide them. We experience this moral sense in things like compassion, which is a sense of justice.

According to intuitionism, we do not necessarily experience a struggle between our feelings and our reason.

But instead, there is a struggle between our selfish drives and our moral sense.

So if you want to have a meeting with a person from your job, for example, you may feel very guilty even before consciously consulting your moral principles, which will remind you that you are in a relationship.

Impact Of Emotions And Intuition In Morality

Emotions and intuition play an important role in moral decision-making.

Let’s think about psychopaths: although most people experience an intense, visceral response when they see a child being beaten (with blood pressure rising and the palm sweating), psychopaths can stay calm.

Psychopaths are as intelligent as the rest of us, so you would expect them to have the same moral standards as they use the same reasoning skills.

But this is not the case. Psychopaths typically have low ethical standards and are more likely to cause suffering in others.

Their intuition is the result of a very different logical system.

This example shows how conscious deliberation does not necessarily lead to moral behavior.

In fact, sometimes our moral judgment precedes our conscious deliberation. And in some cases, rational moral judgments are produced by quick, intuitive assessments.

For example, when researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands read moral statements about controversial topics such as euthanasia and abortion, people reacted with feelings of evaluation 200-250 milliseconds after they had listened.

In other words, they formulated a moral stance before they had time to reason consciously about the decision.

And in some cases, conscious reasoning may not influence moral decision-making. Babies, for example, have already been automatically supportive of ethical behavior.

In one experiment, six-month-old babies watched a movie showing a puppy struggling to climb a hill.

A second puppy was trying to help him, while a third was making the first puppy’s progress difficult.

After watching the movie, the babies had the choice of playing with one of the puppies. And they typically chose the second puppy that was helpful.

Emotions Are Essential For Making Decision

If you did not feel many confused emotions, you'd make excellent decisions, right? Not really!

What always happens is that people without emotions do not make very rational decisions. Instead, they can make ridiculous decisions or even take them.

For example, certain medical conditions (caused by a tumor or a stroke, for example) can end a person’s emotions, but leave the intelligence intact.

Neurologist Antônio Damásio has researched this and found that these patients are not only incapable of making right decisions, but also find it difficult to make any decisions.

Even simple decisions like deciding where to eat lunch can be difficult for these people. What’s more, when they make a decision, those choices are bad, causing them to ruin their financial lives or marry someone they do not care about.

One reason why emotions are so important in decision making is that they allow us to assess the subjective value of different choices, which is a condition for rational choice. In other words, our emotions allow us to feel what kind of impact the decisions will have on us.

For example, what happens when you think you are falling off a cliff? You probably feel fear or even panic.

Well, that’s your body’s way of warning you about risky decisions. We interpret these alerts as an emotion, and this reaction creates a great incentive for our choices or to avoid certain decisions.

And that is precisely why Damasian patients had so much trouble making decisions. They did not experience any emotional alertness; they simply had no incentive to choose anything.

We Are Social Beings; We Need To Connect

As human beings, we are born to connect with each other. In reality, in many ways, we could not exist without other people.

Of course, this is true on a survival level, but this also applies to identity issues. After all, when we are children, our personalities arise according to the relationships we have with our parents.

Think about how a child’s senses develop through continuous interactions with other people, so much that they replicate the behavior of their nannies or caregivers.

For example, parents often laugh when their babies are laughing, look at the baby when the baby is looking, or mimic the sounds the baby does and vice versa.

This kind of reflex is critical to the development process because our brains have evolved to understand social cues, responding to them, and seeking a response from the other person.

When we observe someone drinking a glass of water or smiling, our brain simulates the same action.

A specific set of neurons, called reflex neurons, is responsible for this process. When enabled, they create the same pattern that would appear if we did this action.

For example, when you see someone smiling, you feel happy because your reflex neurons simulate that smile in your mind.

And this process works at the speed of light. Studies have shown that a college student takes an average of 21 milliseconds to synchronize his movements with that of his friends.

And this example also demonstrates another fact about human social psychology. We have a strong and automatic tendency to conform to group norms.

It was proven in a famous experiment. Some people observed a set of three different sized lines.

However, as these people were surrounded by a group of people who were instructed to insist that these lines were the same size, 70% of the people settled and denied the obvious fact that the lines were different.

Your Unconscious Is Very Important

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, compared the human mind to an iceberg. We can only understand a tenth of what is happening in the brain - and that is the conscious mind, or the tip of the iceberg - while the rest is immersed in the water, hidden. But just because it's hidden does not mean it's irrelevant.

In reality, the unconscious mind can handle large amounts of data-much more than our conscious mind-and we can rely on all this information to make quick decisions and perform complex tasks.

To understand the extent of this, consider the fact that, at any moment, our mind can process 11 million bits of information, but we can only be aware of 40! And even in its best capacity, the conscious mind is 200,000 times weaker than the unconscious mind.

That information is crucial. For example, driving a car would be impossible if our unconscious mind could not handle so many motor and perceptive processes.

After all, thanks to its great processing power, our unconscious mind makes decisions in milliseconds. Meanwhile, our conscious mind takes much longer.

Also, our unconscious is responsible for some incredible feats. This part of our brain can absorb and process large amounts of data in an instant, organizing and interpreting in milliseconds. So at any moment, we are perceiving and understanding countless events that we don’t realize.

That is why some people can make accurate predictions without being able to explain their reasons. For example, many chicken farms have staff members who specialize in identifying the sex of the chickens.

These people, who usually have years of experience, can look at a day-old chick and diagnose their gender in a flash with 99% accuracy. And yet, they do not know how they can do it.

Finally, human beings are not as rational as we like to think. But that is not a problem because the unconscious and unreasonable processes of our mind can do extraordinary things to help us in our decisions.

And yet, if rationality is so overrated, how does intelligence enter into this story? And what skills determine success?

Influence Of Intelligence In Future Success

Our society values intelligence, and most of us probably think that being smart can have a significant impact on the future success of life.

And on average, people with the highest IQs do much better in school and similar environments. But does exceptional intellectual ability lead to exceptional achievements in other areas as well?

The first thing to understand is that having a high IQ does not mean that you will have happiness or a successful personal life.

Because, when it comes to relationships, other skills like empathy and willpower outweigh intelligence. So when you control other factors, brilliant people do not have better marriages or relationships. They are not better fathers either.

In fact, according to the Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, researchers have concluded that IQ contributes at most to 20% of success in a person’s life.

And while it is difficult to estimate rates like this, it is clear that high intelligence does not necessarily lead to superior work performance or riches. One study found that only 4% of the variation in work performance can be predicted by IQ.

Similarly, although in some professions (such as in academia), having an IQ of 120 is an advantage, beyond that limit, additional IQ points do not translate into great success or skills.

The Social Animal
In other words, a chemist with an IQ of 140 will not necessarily do better than a colleague with an IQ of 120.

Another influential study followed the career trajectory of a group of highly intelligent students, who were at the highest percentage of IQs for their ages.

And while these young people did well in life - becoming lawyers, architects, and executives - none of them won any big awards or made great scientific discoveries.

On the other hand, two boys who were excluded from the study because they did not have IQ high enough, William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, became very famous scientists and ended up winning a Nobel Prize.

Success Is Influenced By A Person's Sensitivity And Self-Control

If intelligence is not a good measure of future success, what traits can determine if a child will do well in life?

Sensitivity is an essential factor in this regard. And since birth, some children are more sensitive than others. It was established in a study of how 500 children responded to new stimuli.

Researchers found that 20 percent of all newborns were more easily frightened than others: that is, when they were confronted with unknown stimuli, their heart rate accelerated and they began to cry compulsively.

Another 40% of these babies tended to the other extreme. No matter what was placed in front of them, these children were not disturbed.

Under the right circumstances, the most sensitive children did far better than the others. But in hostile environments, these babies have grown up to become vulnerable adults, prone to anxiety-related illnesses and stress-related illnesses.

On the other hand, less sensitive children tend to become more courageous regardless of the environment.

Self-control is another factor that influences future success.

In a famous experiment, a researcher challenged four-year-olds to resist and not eat a marshmallow that was right in front of them. If the children could spend 20 minutes alone in a room without eating the marshmallow, they could get a second marshmallow.

The study found that this simple test of willpower could predict whether the child would be successful in the future.

The children who managed to wait the 20 minutes did better in school; and even 30 years later, this group had high salaries, and many were university graduates.

On the other hand, the more impulsive children had higher rates of criminals and problems related to alcohol and drugs.

Still, the study found that self-control was a malleable trait. For example, when researchers advised children to pretend they were not even looking at marshmallows, but rather at something tasteless, like a fluffy cloud, most could resist the temptation.

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The Social Animal Quotes

[bctt tweet="People who succeed tend to find one goal in the distant future and then chase it through thick and thin. People who flit from one interest to another are much, much less likely to excel at any of them. School asks students to be good at a range of subjects, but life asks people to find one passion that they will follow forever." username="get12min"]

[bctt tweet=“People generally overestimate how distinct their lives are, so the commonalities seemed to them like a series of miracles.” username=“get12min”]

[bctt tweet=“The point of being a teacher is to do more than impart facts, it’s to shape the way students perceive the world, to help a student absorb the rules of a discipline. The teachers who do that get remembered.” username=“get12min”]

[bctt tweet=“It is an emotional and an enchanted place. If the study of the conscious mind highlights the importance of reason and analysis, study of the unconscious mind highlights the importance of passions and perception.” username=“get12min”]

[bctt tweet=“You are the spiritual entity that emerges out of the material networks in your head.” username=“get12min”]

Final Notes:

Although we are rational beings, rationality is not the only determinant of our behavior. In reality, our unconscious is often responsible for our decision-making process. Moreover, our success is influenced not only by our intelligence or IQ but largely by our capacity for self-control and our sensitivity.

Pro tip: Want to see the author talking more about how the mind works? Watch TED Talks by David Brooks right now.