The Brain/Mind is Social
The social nature of people should be obvious. That is why peer pressure is so powerful, at every age. And why almost everyone finds a group to call home – family, guild, tribe, professional organization, interest group, neighborhood, nation (and, for the alienated, even gangs).
Social neuroscience is now explaining the biological basis of social interactions. For example:
- The bonding from close relationships, say between mother and infant, or between lovers, or between close friends, is associated with specific chemical changes in the body;
- Scientists have discovered a group of neurons (cells in the brain) that they call mirror neurons. The neurons “mirror” the behavior of another person, as though the observer were itself acting. This is one reason why imitation, modeling, and just being with others can be so potent.
Some learning is social.
Because the brain/mind is social, a great deal of learning is essentially social. This can be seen, for instance, in young children, in communities of all sorts, in the ways that experts talk with each other and keep themselves informed, and in the massive expansion of online information transfer and social networking.
Much of what anyone understands and can do is picked up directly or indirectly from being with peers and role models and others. And the social nature of learning is now being harnessed through sophisticated processes that tap into informal and group learning. An example is what Wenger and his colleagues call a “community of practice.”
Good relationships and good community are healing.
Support Good relationships contribute to feelings of well-being. Seligman and other contributors to the emerging science of positive psychology are showing that well-being contributes to our physical and mental health. People who suffer a crisis in their lives – in health or psychologically – almost always have a better chance of recovering if they have a close network of friends. As Seligman says “Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up”
And Ashby has also shown that positive affect or mild feelings of well-being improves higher order functions such as:
- working memory;
- creative problem solving;
- social interactions (including helpfulness and sociability);
- decision making;
- flexibility in thinking; and
- improved verbal fluency in adolescents
A huge body of additional research confirms the social nature of human beings and the social nature of learning. Support comes from all branches of the social sciences as well as organizational theory, other fields of psychology and other branches of neuroscience. Our principles that “the brain/mind is social” is a short hand way of synthesizing the research. The challenge is now to implement this core idea, and to recognize that it applies to every aspect of education, from teaching to administration to professional development.