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Excerpt from the NeuroLeadership Institute's "The Brain Is a Social Animal"

Think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid explains it all?  Matthew Lieberman of the NeuroLeadership Institute challenges that theory by stating that our social needs might just be more important -- or at least as important -- as food and water.  Learn in this transcribed excerpt from "The Brain Is a Social Animal".

I can’t talk about social pain without first mentioning Naomi Eisenberger, and that’s not because she’s a source of social pain.  Naomi is a professor at UCLA.  She is my most important collaborator.  She is also my wife.  And the reason I have to mention her here is because, although with our son, he’s both of ours, when it comes to the social pain we’re going to talk about, he’s really much more her baby than mine.  So, I’m going to be conveying it to you, and sharing that data with you, but I want you to remember that this work is more hers than mine for this first chunk that I’m going to be talking about.

OK. So this may be familiar to a fair number of people in the room. This is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The very old idea goes back decades where he suggested that there is a hierarchy to the different needs that we have in our lives. And at the bottom, we have the most critical needs -- our biological, physiological and safety needs.  You can think of these as needs with a big old capital N.  These are the ones that you need because if you don’t have them, you’re going to die.  On top of that, you start to get into what are the more optional frou-frou lower case n kinds of needs.  It’s nice to be loved and have the regard of others, and if you can get to self-actualization, well, that’s nice, too, but none of those are going to prevent you from living and going on.  

Well, what Naomi and I would like to suggest is that this isn’t actually quite right.  That this pyramid doesn’t get it right, and that if we want to get it right we actually have to do some inverting here even though it’s not good for the physical foundation of a pyramid.  We think we need to switch these two things around and, in general, what I’m suggesting is that social processes and social connection may actually be more foundational than these biological, physiological and safety needs. Now again, this seems absolutely preposterous, rght?  How could social needs possibly come before your need for food, for water, for shelter?  It just doesn’t make any sense.  And that may be true for a lot of animals out there in the animal kingdom.  But for one kind of animal, it makes all the sense in the world.  And that one kind of animal -- we all partake of this group -- is mammals.  Because mammals, unlike a lot of other animals out there… our young are built massively immature.  They are incapable of taking care of themselves; they are incapable of going out and securing any of those resources they need for their own survival. Other animals don’t always have this problem, but mammals do.  Mammals, if they want to get the food, water, shelter that they need to survive from infancy to a point where they can take care of themselves, they depend on one thing more than anything else – mother.  Right?  Or a caregiver.  It doesn’t necessarily have to mean mother, but in most animal arenas it is the mother.  If you want to survive, you’d better stay socially connected to your caregivers.  If you don’t, if you’re a mammalian infant and you’re not connected to your social caregivers, you’re dead. Period. So, food, water, and those things are very, very important and you’re going to be dead without those, too.  But this is how you get those.  You get those by being socially connected, and that means that the brain is going to be set up to make sure, in mammals, that this doesn’t get lost. That we don’t get disconnected.  So babies cry, and they cry whenever they are socially disconnected from their caregivers. They cry when they are hungry, but they care about social connection from the moment they are born, okay? And on the flip side, parents care about social connection.  We don’t have to be wired that way but we are.  

When I say wired, I’m talking about a mix of things that are nature and nurture.  Nurture wires us. So I don’t mean to suggest that wired necessarily means that it’s all entirely inborn, although in this case, I think it is.  We’re pretty much pre-designed to have these kinds of reactions.  So, you need your parents; social connection is really important if you’re a mammal.  And for us, this suggests that this becomes a primary need, this comes before some of those others.   

We weren’t the only ones to think of this.  A long time ago, Mother Teresa wrote that there is much suffering in the world from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having noone. I’ve come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can experience.  So, if we take this seriously, if we now start to say that maybe the social needs are needs with a capital N and not a lowercase n, they’re serious needs.  There should be some consequences of that. These needs should have some of the features that we typically associate with the other kinds of needs that are “capital N” needs.  And what I mean by this is that whenever there is a need, there is an experiential state that we experience when we are deprived of that need. And it’s always a painful state. So, if you don’t have food, you feel hunger.  If you don’t have water, you feel thirst.  If you don’t have shelter, you either feel the temperature of the elements, you might be freezing in New York, or too hot in L.A., and if you don’t have social connection… 

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Excerpt 2 from the NeuroLeadership Institute's "The Beliefs Organizations Should Hold"

This fascinating transcribed excerpt from "The Beliefs Organizations Should Hold" with Carol Dweck and Janet Van Huysse recounts a research experiment where kids were either told how intelligent they were or how hard they worked.  Guess which ones performed better in the end?

I want to tell you about some studies we did that show how tuned in kids are.  In one study with adults, we started giving a math lesson to them that was full of genius talk, the geniuses who invented that, who discovered that theorem. And to other adults, we talked genius but in a different way.  We talked about people who have fallen in love with math, and just worked at it passionately and eventually discovered these theorems.  The genius talk, the boring genius talk --  boy, did that create a fixed mindset. And when we gave some hard problems to the people, they really were not resilient because they thought, “Oh, there are a few people – geniuses -- who are good at this; then there’s the rest of us”.  But, in passion… if being a math person is about passion, they remained persistent and resilient. 

But probably the most shocking [element] of our research has been about the impact of praise on mindsets.  We undertook this at the height of the self-esteem movement when the gurus were telling us to praise everyone lavishly and constantly.  So we took, in this study with adolescents -- we did it with hundreds of kids all over the country, and we brought them one at a time to a room in their school. We gave them ten problems from a non-verbal IQ test, and they did pretty well.  We made sure they did pretty well.  And then we gave them one sentence of praise.  A third of them were praised for their intelligence:  “WOW!  You must be smart at this!”.   A third were praised for the process they engaged in.  It could be their strategy, their focus, their effort, in this case, effort: “WOW!  You must have worked really hard!”.  So we focused on the process that brought about their success.  And then a third group, just for purposes of comparison:   “WOW!  That’s really good”.  What happened?  First of all, one sentence of praise put them into different mindsets.  Just saying “You’re really smart” says “I value smarts. I value genius”. This is a culture of genius, and whoa, into a fixed mindset they went.  But the most shocking thing to us was that the one sentence of intelligence praise made students into non-learners.   We then gave them that choice: “What do you want to do now -- something in your comfort zone or something really hard you could learn from?”,  the majority of people praised for intelligence, (and it’s been done with adults, too) chose something in their comfort zone.  They did not want to risk their newly minted gifted label. However, the overwhelming majority of those praised for their process in two of our studies, over 90% chose a hard task that they could profit from, learn something from.  What happened to their performance?  We gave everyone a very difficult set of problems, and then we looked at their performance on somewhat easier problems following that.   Those praised for intelligence crashed after the hard problems.  Their performance on this IQ test really suffered.  But those praised for process had kept on working hard and being engaged in the hard problems, so when they became easier again, their performance flourished.  But there was something even more amazing.  We told them we were taking this test to another school, and don’t put your name on this piece of paper, just write a few lines about your experience. And then we left a space for them to report their scores.  Would you believe that almost 40% of the students praised for intelligence lied, and only in one direction.  What does this mean?  They are writing to someone they don’t know, they’ll never meet, they didn’t put their name on the paper.  I think it means that in a fixed mindset environment, a mistake is so humiliating, so undermining, they can’t even admit it to themselves.  That’s not what happens in a learning organization.


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Excerpt from the NeuroLeadership Institute's "Stay Cool Under Pressure"

Think your emotions run you?  This transcribed excerpt from "Staying Cool Under Pressure" with David Rock and Matthew Lieberman from the NeuroLeadership Institute talk about how simply by naming an emotion allows our brains to control them a bit.  Interesting...

My little interlude in this talk is called D3 theory: disruption, disambiguation and detachment, or “why labeling makes you feel better”.  That’s probably the simple way to remember it.

So, does anyone know what these are?

{Inaudible responses from audience.}

I heard a couple of people say it.  The worry dolls.  OK.  Guatemalan worry dolls.  The legend of the Highland Indian villages of Guatemala is that if you have a problem and share it with a worry doll… They give them to their young children -- they say before going to bed tell one worry to each doll, and then place them beneath your pillow.  Whilst you sleep, the dolls will take your worries away.  OK.  So this is just one more example of the sort of common and received wisdom that we all know that putting your feelings into words can have some really nice salutary effects for us.  There is actually a very old idea both in Western and Eastern cultures. In Western culture -- you can go back more than three centuries to the philosopher Benedict de Spinoza who said that an emotion which is a passion ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea thereof. And then the founder of my field of psychology, William James, two centuries later -- this is one of the quotes that probably got me most into all the work that I do and his principles of psychology. He said that the present conscious state when I say “I feel angry” is not the direct state of anger; it is the state of saying “I feel angry”.  The act of naming them, these emotional states, has momentarily detracted from their force. And then if we go half way around the world to the East, in the context of Buddhist texts, it has been written that the skillful use of labeling introduces a healthy degree of inner detachment, since the act of apostrophizing or speaking to one’s moods and emotions diminishes one’s identification with them.   So, this is the region of the brain that I tend to focus about 60% of my waking hours on. 

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