Mastering the challenges the environment poses

04.05.2020

The social brain is a concept created by neurosciences and refers to the innate ability to relate to others. It has been proven that there are brain circuits that intervene both in the formation of self-awareness and in empathic ability.

The concept of social brain is based on the idea that there are several brain areas directly linked to social relations. There is the fusiform turn, which allows you to store faces in memory; of course, mirror neurons, which make imitation possible; Von Economo neurons, which guides us in conflicts, etc.

On the other hand, there is the ability to create and use language. This aspect was definitive in the evolution of man and is directly associated with the need to relate to others. The social brain comprises two major systems: mirror neurons and the theory of mind. Let's see.

"Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds."

-Alexander Graham Bell-

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The social brain and mirror neurons

Mirror neurons are a special type of neuron that is activated when emotional actions or expressions are observed in other people. That is to say, when someone contemplates another person doing something, it is as if he were doing it himself. In one way or another, the human being appropriates the feelings and emotions of others.

Mirror neurons are found mainly in the frontal lobe, a region associated with movement and touch sensitivity; also in the parietal lobe, which provides body image and information on the senses; and in the insular cortex and the cingulum, both related to emotions and pain.

Mirror neurons cause the so-called "contagion effect" to occur, which is one of the fundamental mechanisms of the social brain.

As the name implies, this effect leads to the emotions and feelings of others being transmitted from one person to another, through an almost automatic mechanism. In this way, you end up imitating what is perceived in the environment.

Theory of mind

The other great system that structures the social brain is the theory of the mind. This is the ability to attribute intentions or thoughts to other people or even to other entities on some occasions. This function allows one to reflect on one's own mental state and that of others, mainly through bodily signs.

This self and others perception includes emotions, feelings, beliefs, etc. Finally, it allows us to foresee how our own behavior and that of others will be in the face of certain events. In general, this ability is not exercised deliberately, but intuitively.

Both mirror neurons and the theory of mind are the two great components of the social brain and its most finished product: empathy. This is defined as the ability to understand the other on their own terms or, which is the same, to put themselves in the place of others.

You are born with the potential to develop empathy, but it is not always achieved. Under "normal" conditions, all human beings would have the ability to put themselves in another's place. However, individual experiences and education can promote less empathetic behaviors, through poorly adaptive behaviors, prejudices, etc.

Cooperation is a smart act

If the human being comes equipped to be sociable, it is not at the whim of nature. The link with others was decisive for the species to evolve. Language is one of the most elaborate products of this evolution and its function is precisely to connect the thoughts and feelings of each other.

We could say that the human being is a helpless being, with much less strength and agility than other beings in nature and with precariously developed senses compared to those of other animals. If he managed to cope successfully with an environment in which he had no better chance of survival, it was thanks to his brain; This, in turn, owes much of its development to the social.

What was true for the primitives continues to be true for contemporary man, although for the moment a society with individualistic and utilitarian values ​​prevails. It is verified in the daily life and in the history of the peoples that cooperation is the most expeditious way to overcome problems and go far. That is what nature invites, through the social brain.