It may be hard to believe but social networking may serve a basic human need. A growing body of research shows that the need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water and shelter.
The conclusion comes from studies in UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman’s first book, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” published this week by Crown Publishers.
“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion,” said Lieberman, a professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
Lieberman is one of the founders of social cognitive neuroscience, a discipline that analyzes how brain function underlies social thinking and social behavior. In “Social,” he explains that our predisposition to be social may explain our need to interact through social media, iPhones and gossip, as well as why people are interested in watching others’ social interactions on soap operas and reality television, for example.
The book, which cites more than 1,000 published and unpublished studies, is the story of how 250 million years of evolution have produced major differences in the brain that distinguish us from our ancestors. That evolution ultimately has made today’s humans “more connected to the social world and more dependent on the social world,” according to the book.
“Mammals are more socially connected than reptiles, primates more than other mammals, and humans more than other primates,” Lieberman said. “What this suggests is that becoming more socially connected is essential to our survival. In a sense, evolution has made bets at each step that the best way to make us more successful is to make us more social.”
By far the majority of a person’s success is attributable to social, emotional intelligence. Trumping general intelligence, previous academic achievement and personality, these qualities “uniquely predict objective academic achievement.”
Lieberman suggests that our institutions — from schools and sports teams to the military and health care institutions — would perform better if they were structured with an understanding of our social nature.
“Some day, we will look back and wonder how we ever had lives, work and schools that weren’t guided by the principles of the social brain,” he writes.