Social Intelligence


FOTCM Member
This is a book by Daniel Goleman, writer of Emotional Intelligence. I haven't read it yet, but i plan to, as i found this review very interesting, along the lines of what we learn here:

Daniel Goleman said:
Emotional Intelligence was an international phenomenon, appearing on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year and selling more than 5 million copies worldwide. Now, once again, Daniel Goleman has written a groundbreaking synthesis of the latest findings in biology and brain science, revealing that we are 'wired to connect' and the surprisingly deep impact of our relationships on every aspect our lives.

Far more than we are consciously aware, our daily encounters with parents, spouses, bosses, and even strangers, shape our brains and affect cells throughout our bodies, down to the level of our genes - for good or ill.

In Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman explores an emerging new science with startling implications for our interpersonal world. Its most fundamental discovery: we are designed for sociability, constantly engaged in a 'neural ballet' that connects us brain-to-brain with those around us.

Goleman explains the surprising accuracy of first impressions, the basis of charisma and emotional power, the complexity of sexual attraction, and how we detect lies. He describes the 'dark side' of social intelligence, from narcissism to Machiavellianism and psychopathy. He also reveals our astonishing capacity for 'mindsight', as well as the tragedy of those, like autistic children, whose mindsight is impaired. In this book Daniel Goleman delivers his most heartening news with powerful conviction: we humans have a built-in bias toward empathy, cooperation and altruism - provided we develop the social intelligence to nurture these capacities in ourselves and others.

Available at Asia Book


The Living Force
I am posting some excerpts from this book. Some material is reorganized for clarity.

Social Brain
The social brain is the sum of the neural mechanisms that orchestrate our interactions as well as our thoughts and feelings about people and our relationships. The most telling news here may be that the social brain represents the only biological system in our bodies that continually attunes us to, and in turn becomes influenced by, the internal state of people we are with.
fMRI studies in UCLA have shown that the brain's default activity - what happens automatically when nothing much else goes on - seems to be mulling over our relationships. .....Rehashing our social lives may rate as the brain's favorite downtime activity, something like its top-rated TV show.
Our social interactions even play a role in reshaping our brain, through "neuroplasticity", which means that repeated experiences sculpt the shape, size and number of neurons and their synaptic connections.
Emotional Contagion - High and low roads
When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us - explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt - they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences: emotions are contagious. We "catch" strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus - and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of a cold. ........
We participate in this interpersonal economy whenever a social interaction results in a transfer of feeling - which is virtually always. ....
Emotional contagion exemplifies what can be called the brain's "low road" at work. The low road is circuitry that operates beneath our awareness, automatically and effortlessly, with immense speed.
The "high road", in contrast, runs through neural systems that work more methodically and step by step, with deliberate effort. We are aware of the high road, and it gives us at least some control over our inner life, which the low road denies us.
The low road can be seen as "wet", dripping with emotion, and the high road as relatively "dry", coolly rational. The low road traffics in raw feelings, the high in a considered understanding of what's going on. The low road lets us immediately feel with someone else [instant primal empathy]; the high road can think about what we feel. ... To oversimplify, the low road uses neural circuitry that runs through the amygdala and similar automatic nodes, while the high road sends inputs to the prefrontal cortex, the brain's executive center, which contains our capacity for intentionality - we can think about what's happening to us.
The two roads register information at very different speeds. the low road is faster than it is accurate; the high road, while slower, can help us arrive at a more accurate view of what's going on. The low road is quick and dirty, the high road slow but mindful..... The speed differential between these two systems - the instant emotional one is several times faster in brain time than the more rational one - allows us to make snap decisions that we might later regret or need to justify. By the time the low road has reacted, sometimes all the high road can do is make the best of things.
That first emotional response happens so quickly and spontaneously that as the amygdala triggers its reactions and activates other brain areas, the cortical centers for thinking have not yet even finished analyzing the situation. However, the more involved the ACC and greater the activity in certain prefrontal areas, the more muted the amygdala become during reappraisal. When the high road speaks up, it takes away the low road's microphone.
The emerging data on reappraisal offer a corrective to a widespread misimpression: that we have virtually no choice in our mental life because so much of what we think, feel and do rushes by automatically, in a "blink". Reappraisal alters our emotional response. When we do it intentionally, we gain conscious control of our emotions.
Even just naming for ourselves the emotions we feel can calm the amygdala . .......The high road to choice also means that we are free to respond as we like, even to unwanted contagion.
Moments of contagion represent a remarkable neural event: the formation between two brains of a functional link, a feedback loop that crosses the skin and skull barrier between bodies. In system terms, during this linkup brains "couple", with the output of one becoming the input to drive the workings of the other, for the time being forming what amounts to an interbrain circuit.
As people loop together, their brains send and receive an ongoing stream of signals that allow them to create a tacit harmony - and, if the flow goes the right way, amplify their resonance. Looping lets feelings, thoughts and actions synchronize.
Brains loop outside our awareness, with no special attention or intention demanded. While we can intentionally try to mimic someone in order to foster closeness, such attempts tend to come off as awkward. Synchrony works best when it is spontaneous, not constructed from ulterior motives such as ingratiation or any other conscious intention.
Mirror neurons are suggested to be responsible for such automatic brain to brain linkages.
Elias Canetti, in his study "Crowds and Power" observes that what coalesces a mass of individuals into a crowd is their domination by a "single passion" everyone shares - a common emotion that leads to united action: collective contagion. A mood can sweep through a group with great rapidity, a remarkable display of parallel alignment of biological subsystems that puts everyone there in physiological synchrony. The swiftness of shifts in activity of crowds looks suspiciously like mirror neuron coordination writ large.............
Crowd contagion goes on even in the most minimal of groups, three people sitting face to face with each other in silence for a few minutes. In the absence of a power hierarchy, the person with the most emotionally expressive face will set the shared tone.
Similar dynamics have been observed in business simulation studies at Yale University. Such convergence bespeaks a subtle,inexorable magnetism, a gravity like pull toward thinking and feeling alike about things in general among people who are in close relationships of any kind - family members, workmates, and friends.
Darwin saw every emotion as a predisposition to act in a unique way: fear, to freeze or flee; anger, to fight; joy, to embrace; and so on. Brain imaging studies now show that at the neural level he was right. To feel any emotion stirs the related urge to act.
The low road makes that feeling-action link interpersonal. For instance, when we see someone expressing fear - even if only in the way they move or hold their body - our own brain activates the circuitry for fear. Along with this instantaneous contagion, the brain areas that prepare for fearful actions also activate. And so with each emotion - anger, joy, sadness and so on. Emotional contagion does more than than merely spread feelings - it automatically prepares the brain for appropriate action.
Nature's rule of thumb holds that a biological system should use the minimal amount of energy. Here the brain achieves that efficiency by firing the same neurons while both perceiving and performing an action. That economizing repeats across brains.


The Living Force
Social Intelligence
The ingredients of social intelligence I propose here can be organized into two broad categories: social awareness, what we sense about others - and social facility, what we then do with that awareness. Both social awareness and social facility domains range from basic, low road capacities to more complex high road articulations. For example, synchrony and primal empathy are purely low road capacities, while empathic accuracy and influence mingle high and low.

Social awareness:
Social awareness refers to a spectrum that runs from instantaneously sensing another's inner state, to understanding her feelings and thoughts, to "getting" complicated social situations. It includes:

Primal Empathy: Feeling with others; sensing non-verbal emotional signals. This is a low road capacity.

Attunement: Listening with full receptivity; attuning to a person through intentional attention.

Empathic accuracy: Understanding another person's thoughts, feelings and intentions. It involves high road cognitive circuitry on top of primal empathy.

Social cognition: Knowing how the social world works. Some theorists have argued that social cognition, in the context of general intelligence applied to the social world, is the only true component of social intelligence. But this view focusing solely in terms of what we know about the interpersonal world ignores what we actually do while interacting with people.

Social facility
Simply sensing how another feels, or knowing what they think or intend, does not guarantee fruitful interactions. Social facility builds on social awareness to allow smooth, effective interactions. The spectrum of social facility includes:

Synchrony: Interacting smoothly at the non-verbal level - the neural capacity for synchrony resides in low road systems like oscillators and mirror neurons. ....The non-verbal signs of synchrony include the range of harmoniously orchestrated interactions, from smiling or nodding at just the right moment to simply orienting our body towards the other person. ...People who fare poorly at this social ability typically suffer from "dyssemia", a deficit in reading - and so acting on - the nonverbal signs that guide smooth interactions. .. A child who has this problem may, for instance, fail to look at the people who are speaking to them, stand too close while talking with someone, have facial expressions inappropriate for their emotional state, or seem tactless and insensitive to how others feel. In adults, dyssemia shows up in similarly out-of-synch behavior. ....These social deficits are usually not caused by neurological conditions like Asperger's syndrome or autism. An estimated 85% of those with dyssemia have the deficit because they failed to learn how to read non-verbal signals or how to respond to them, either because they did not interact enough with their peers or because their family did not display a given range of emotion or followed eccentric social norms. Another 10% or so have the deficit because an emotional trauma short-circuited the necessary learning. Only an estimated 5% have a diagnosable neurological disorder.

Self-presentation: Presenting ourselves efficiently. Professional actors are specially clever at self presentation, or the ability to present oneself in a ways that make a desired impression. .... Charisma is one aspect of self presentation. The charisma of a powerful public speaker, or a great teacher or leader, comprises in their ability to spark in us the emotions they exude, entraining us to that emotional spectrum.

Influence: Shaping the outcome of social interactions. The very best police officers are adept at exercising influence, in the sense of constructively shaping the outcome of an interaction, using tact and self-control. ..Achieving constructive influence involves expressing ourselves in a way that produces a desired social result, like putting someone at ease. Artfully expressive people are viewed by others as confident and likable and in general make favorable impressions. ..Deciding on the optimal dose of expressivity depends, among other factors, on social cognition, knowing the governing cultural norms for what's appropriate in a given social context (another example of how social intelligence abilities at work synergistically). The muted tones that are best for Beijing will seem too understated in Guadalajara. Tact balances expressivity. Social discretion lets us fit in wherever we are, leaving the fewest untoward emotional ripples in our wake.

Concern: caring about others' needs and acting accordingly. The more we both empathize with someone in need and feel concern, the greater will be our urge to help them - a link seen wherever people are moved to remedy human suffering. Concern reflects a person's capacity for compassion. Manipulative people can be skilled in other abilities of social intelligence, but they fail here. Deficiencies in this aspect of social facility should most strongly identify antisocial types, who do not care about others' needs or suffering, let alone seek to help them.

Conventional ideas of social intelligence have too often focused on high road talents like social knowledge, or the capacity for extracting the rules, protocols, and norms that guide appropriate behavior in a given social setting. The "social cognition" school reduces interpersonal talent to this sort of general intellect applied to interactions. Although this cognitive approach has served well in linguistics and in artificial intelligence, it meets its limits when applied to human relationships.
A focus on cognition about relationships neglects essential non-cognitive abilities like primal empathy and synchrony and it ignores capacities like concern.
The author talks about the dark triad - composed of narcissists, Machiavellian types (seems similar to sociopaths and covert aggressive types) and psychopaths. He mentions that the dark triad likely represents different points along the same continuum - starting from narcissism to full blown psychopathy with the Machs representing the subclinical version of psychopaths. Unlike Machs and narcissists, psychopaths do not suffer from fear and anxiety.
He writes
Machs typically have tunnel-vision empathy: they can bring someone's emotions into focus mainly when they wish to use tat person for their own ends. Otherwise , Machs are generally poorer at empathic attunement than others [normal people].
Even so, their selective capacity for sensing what someone might be thinking can be quite incisive, and they seem to rely on this social cunning to make their way in the world. Machs become astute students of an interpersonal world they can penetrate only at the surface; their shrewd social cognition notes nuances and figures out how people might react to a given situation. These abilities allow their legendary social slickness.
Even a psychopath may excel at social cognition: that purely intellectual grasp of people's reactions and social proprieties may guide a psychopath in setting up victims. A sound test for social intelligence should be able to identify and exclude members of the Dark Triad. We need a measure that cannot be aced by a well prepped Mach. One solution is to include an evaluation for concern, empathy in action.
Training the low road
Now that we have surveyed the terrain of social intelligence, the question arises: can we improve such essential human talents? Particularly when it comes to low-road capacities, this challenge may seem daunting. But Paul Ekman, the authority on reading emotions from facial expressions, has devised a way to teach people how to improve primal empathy - despite its instantaneous, unconscious operation.
Ekman's training focuses on microexpressions, emotional signals that flit across the face in less than a third of a second, the snap of a finger. Because these emotional signals are spontaneous and made unconsciously, they offer a clue as to how a person actually feels at that moment - despite whatever impression she may be trying to project. ..........These automatic and fleeting emotional expressions operate via the low-road circuitry, which is distinguished by its automaticity and its quickness. And we need to use the low road to catch the low road. But that requires fine-tuning our capacity for primal empathy.
Ekman has devised a CD, called the MicroExpression Training Tool, that he claims can help most anyone vastly improve this microdetective work.


The Living Force
Rapport exists between people; we recognize it whenever a connection feels pleasant, engaged and smooth. But rapport matters far beyond those fleeting pleasant moments. When people are in rapport, they can be more creative together and more efficient in making decisions - whether it is a couple planning a vacation itinerary, or top management mapping a business strategy. .....According to Harvard professor Dr Robert Rosenthal, this special connection always entails three elements: mutual attention, shared positive feeling and a well-coordinated non-verbal duet. As these three arise in tandem, we catalyze rapport.
Shared attention is the first essential ingredient. As two people attend to what the other says and does, they generate a sense of mutual interest, a joint focus that amounts to perceptual glue. Such two-way attention spurs shared feelings.
One indicator of rapport is mutual empathy: both partners experience being experienced. This marks one difference between mere social ease and full rapport; in social ease we feel comfortable, but we do not have the sense of the other person tuning in to our feelings.
The next ingredient is good feeling , evoked largely through tone of voice and facial expression.
Coordination, or synchrony, is the third key ingredient for rapport. We coordinate most strongly via subtle non-verbal channels like pace and timing of a conversation and our body movements. Lacking coordination, a conversation will feel uncomfortable, with mistimed responses or awkward pauses.
Any conversation operates on two levels, high road and low. The high road traffics in rationality, words and meanings. But the low expresses a free form vitality that runs beneath the words, holding the interaction together through an immediately felt connection. This sense of connection hinges less on what's said than on the more direct and intimate unspoken emotional link.
One afternoon at the Princeton Theological Seminary, forty students waited to give a short practice sermon on which they would be rated. Half the students had been assigned random biblical topics. The other half had been assigned the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to help a stranger by the roadside, an injured man ignored by people supposedly more "pious".
The seminarians worked together in a room, and every fifteen minutes one of them left to go to another building to deliver his sermon. None knew they were taking part in an experiment on altruism.
Their route passed directly by a doorway in which a man was slumped, groaning in evident pain. Of the forty students, twenty four passed right by, ignoring the plaintive moans. And those who were mulling over the lessons of the Good Samaritan's tale were no more likely to stop and help than were any of the others.
For the seminarians, time mattered. Among ten who thought they were late to give the sermon, only one stopped; among another ten who thought they had plenty of time, six offered help.
Of the many factors that are at play in altruism, a critical one seems to be simply taking the time to pay attention; our empathy is strongest to the degree we fully focus on someone and so loop emotionally......Lacking attention, empathy hasn't a chance.
Working memory, or the amount of memory that we can hold in our attention at any one moment, resides in the prefrontal cortex, the citadel of the high road. This circuitry plays a major role in allocating our attention , by managing the backstage business of our interaction. For instance, it searches our memory for what to say and do, even while it attends to incoming signals and shifts our responses accordingly.
As the challenges thicken, those multiple demands increasingly tax our capacity for paying attention. Signals of worry from the amygdala flood key regions of the prefrontal cortex, manifesting as preoccupations that steal attention away from whatever else we are dealing with. Distress overtaxes attention. ......
The more sharply attentive we are, the more keenly we will sense another person's inner state: we will do so more quickly and from subtler cues, in more ambiguous circumstances. Conversely, the greater our distress, the less accurately we will be able to empathize.
In short, self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.
Having mindsight demands these basic skills: distinguishing oneself from others, understanding that someone else can think differently from oneself and perceive situations from another perspective and realizing that their aims may not be in one's best interests.
Consider the following well-established tests used in experiments on mindsight to chart a child’s progress:

*At about eighteen months, place a large mark on a baby’s forehead, then have her look in a mirror. Typically those younger than eighteen months will touch the mark on the image in the mirror; those older will touch their own forehead. The younger babies have not yet learned to recognize themselves. Social awareness requires that we have a sense of self, distinguishing us from others.

*Offer a child around eighteen months old two different snacks, such as crackers or apple slices. Watch which one the child prefers. Let the child observe you taste each of the snacks, as you exhibit clear disgust at the child’s choice and show a strong preference for the opposite choice. Then place the child’s hand between the two snacks and ask, ‘Can you give me one?’ Children younger than eighteen months will generally offer the snack they liked; older ones will offer the snack you preferred.

*For three- and four-year-olds, hide a treat somewhere in a room while this child and an older child watch. Have the older child leave the room. Then make sure the younger child sees you move the treat to a new hiding place. Ask the younger child where the older child will look for the treat when he comes back into the room. Four-year-olds will usually say he will look in the original hiding place; three-year-olds will guess the new place. Four-year-olds have realized that someone else’s understanding can be different than their own, a lesson the younger ones have not yet grasped.

*The last experiment involves three- and four-year- olds and a hand puppet called Mean Monkey. You show children successively several pairs of stickers, and for each pair Mean Monkey asks which sticker the child wants. On every round Mean Monkey chooses for himself the child’s preferred sticker, leaving the other for the child. (That’s why he’s called Mean Monkey.) By around age four, children ‘get’ Mean Monkey’s game and quickly learn to tell him the opposite of what they really want–and so end up with their desired sticker. Younger children typically don’t understand the puppet’s mean intention and so innocently continue telling the truth, never getting the sticker they want. …

As growing children master these social lessons - typically in their fourth year - their empathy approaches that of an adult. With this maturity, part of their innocence ends: children become clear about differences between what they merely imagine and what actually happens. Four year olds have attained the basics in empathy that they will draw on throughout life - albeit later on with higher levels of psychological and cognitive complexity.
Mirror neurons may be crucial for mindsight. Even among normal children, the ability to imagine another person's perspective and to empathize correlates with mirror neuron activity. fMRI imaging of young teens reveal that, compared to normal children, an autistic group showed a deficiency in prefrontal cortex mirror neuron activity while reading and imitating facial expressions.

Nature vs nurture
Studies by behavioral geneticist John Crabbe on lab mice with identical genetics showed some surprising results. Crabbe's experiment, together with similar findings from other labs, suggests that genes are more dynamic than most people - and science for more than a century - have assumed. It's not just which genes we are born with, but their expression, that matters.
To understand how our genes operate, we must appreciate the difference between possessing a given gene and the degree to which that gene expresses its signature proteins. In gene expression, essentially a bit of DNA makes RNA, which in turn creates a protein that makes something happen in our biology. Of the thirty thousand or so genes in the human body, some are expressed only during embryonic development, then shut off forever. Others turn on and off constantly. Some express themselves only in the liver, others only in the brain.
Crabbe's finding stands as a landmark in "epigenetics", the study of the ways the experiences we undergo change how our genes operate - without altering our DNA sequence an iota. Only when a gene directs the synthesis of RNA does it actually make a practical difference in the body. Epigenetics shows how our environment, translated into the immediate chemical surround of a given cell, programs our genes in ways that determine just how active they will be.
Such insights put to rest the century old debate on nature vs nurture: do our genes or our experiences determine who we become? That debate turns out to be pointless, based on the fallacy that our genes and our environment are independent of each other; it's like arguing over which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, the length or the width.
genes are designed to be regulated by signals from their immediate surround, including hormones from the endocrine system and neurotransmitters in the brain - some of which in turn are profoundly influenced by our social interactions.
Depressions behavioral geneticists tell us, can be inherited. Much research has tried to calculate the "heritability" of depression - the odds that such a child [of depressed parents] will herself become clinically depressed at some point in her life. But as Michael Meaney points out, children born with a parent prone to bouts of depression inherit not only that parent's genes but also the depressed parent - who may well act in ways that foster that gene's expression.
For instance, studies of clinically depressed mothers and their infants reveal that depressed mothers tend to look away from their babies more often than others, become angry more often, are more intrusive when their babies need a recovery timeout, and are less warm. Their babies typically make the only protest they know - crying - or seem to give up, becoming apathetic or withdrawn.
Babies seem to learn the interaction styles from the ongoing series of out-of-synch moments with with their depressed mother. Moreover they are at risk for acquiring a faulty sense of themselves, having learned already that they cannot bring about a repair when they are unhappy and out of synch, or rely on others to help them feel better.
Social epigenetics offers hope to such children. Parents who are somewhat depressed but can manage to show good cheer in the face of difficulty seem to minimize the social transmission of depression. And having additional caretakers who are not depressed offers a reliably secure base.
Each brain system has an optimal period during which experience maximally shapes its circuitry. Sensory systems, for instance, are largely shaped during early childhood and language systems mature next. Some systems, like the hippocampus - in humans as in rats, the seat of learning and memory - continue to be strongly shaped by experience throughout life. .......... In humans the longest window for shaping occurs with the prefrontal cortex, which continues to be molded anatomically into early adulthood. Thus the people in a child's life have a decades-long opportunity to leave an imprint on that child's executive neural circuitry.
The more a particular interaction occurs during childhood, the more deeply imprinted it becomes in the brain's circuitry - and more the stickiness it will have as that child moves through life as an adult. Those repeated moments from childhood will become automatic paths in the brain.
Secure Base
A 3 year old in an ornery mood comes upon her visiting uncle, who is a handy target for her grumpiness.
"I hate you," she declares.
"Well, I love you." He smiles back bemused.
"I hate you," she replies more loudly, adamant.
"I still love you," he says, more sweetly.
"I hate you!" she yells, with dramatic gusto.
"Well, I still love you," he reassures her, sweeping her up in his arms.
"I love you," she concedes softly.
Developmental psychologists view such pithy interactions in terms of the underlying emotional communication. The I-hate-you/I-love-you disconnect is, in this view an "interaction error", and getting back on the same emotional wavelength is "repair" of that error.
A successful repair, like the final rapport achieved between this 3 year old and her uncle, makes both partners feel good. Continued disrepair has the opposite effect. A child's ability to repair such a disconnection - to weather an interpersonal emotional storm and then reconnect again - is one key to lifelong happiness. The secret lies not in avoiding life's inevitable frustrations and upsets but in learning to recover from them. The faster the recovery, the greater the child's capacity for joyfulness.
That capacity, as with so many others in social life, begins in infancy. When a baby and his caregiver are in synch, each reciprocates the other's message in a coordinated way. But during the first year of life, babies lack much of the neural wiring necessary to carry off such coordination. They stay well coordinated only about 30% of the time or less, with a natural cycle of going from in synch to out of synch.
Being out of synch makes babies unhappy. They protest via signs of frustration - in effect asking for help getting back in synch. This betokens their first attempts at interaction repair.
Everyone in a child's day offers a model, for better or for worse, of how to handle distress. This learning goes on implicitly (no doubt via mirror neurons) as a child witnesses how an older sibling, a playmate, or a parent manages their own emotional storms. Through such passive learning, the OFC's regulatory circuits for calming the amygdala "rehearse" whatever strategy the child witnesses. A bit of this learning also goes on explicitly whenever someone reminds or helps a child to manage her own rocky feelings. With time and practice, the OFC circuitry for regulating emotional impulses gradually strengthens.

A mother nursing her baby is the primal prototype for nurturance. John Bowlby proposed that the same innate caregiving system springs into action whenever we have the urge to respond to a call for help - whether it is our lover, our child, our friend, or a stranger who is in distress.
Caregiving between romantic partners comes in two main forms. Providing a secure base where a partner can feel protected and offering a safe haven from which that partner can take on the world. Ideally, both partners should be able to switch fluidly from one role to the other, providing solace or haven - or receiving it - as needed. Such reciprocity marks a healthy relationship.
We provide a secure base whenever we come to our partner's emotional rescue, by helping them solve a vexing problem, soothing them, or simply being present and listening. Once we feel a relationship offers us a secure base, our energies are free to tackle challenges.
Our sense of security and our drive to explore are entwined. The more our partner provides us with a haven and security, Bowlby's theory proposes the more exploration we can take on - and the more daunting the goal of our explorations, the more we may need to draw on the support of our base to boost our energy and focus, confidence and courage. These propositions were tested with 116 couples who had been romantically involved for at least 4 years. As predicted, the more a person felt his or her partner to be a dependable "home base", the more willing they were to pursue life's opportunities with confidence.
Partners who were controlling were perceived by the other as rude and critical - and their advice was generally rejected. Attempts to take control violate the cardinal rule for providing a secure base: intervene only when asked to or when it is absolutely necessary.
Partners' support and attachment styles vary. People who are anxious in their attachments may have trouble relaxing enough to allow space for a partner's explorations, wanting them instead to stay nearby, just as anxious mothers tend to do. Such overly clingy partners may be fine for offering a secure base, but they cannot function as a safe haven. In contrast, avoidant people typically have no trouble letting their partner roam but are poor at offering a secure base of comfort - and virtually never come to their emotional rescue.


The Living Force
In linking stress to health, the key biological systems are the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When we are distressed, both the SNS and HPA axis take up the challenge, secreting hormones that prepare us to handle an emergency or threat. But they do so by borrowing resources from the immune and endocrine systems among others. That weakens these key systems for health, just for a moment or for years at a time.
The SNS and HPA circuits are turned on or off by our emotional states - distress for the worse, happiness for the better. Since other people affect our emotions with such power (through emotional contagion for example), the causal linkage extends outside our body to our relationships.
The physiological changes associated with the random ups and downs of relationships do not matter that much. But when those downs continue over many years, they create levels of biological stress (technically known as an "allostatic load") that can speed the onset of disease or worsen its symptoms.
How a given relationship affects our health will depend on the sum total of how emotionally toxic or nourishing it has been over months and years.

People who respond to insults with silence experience significant hikes in blood pressure. As the demeaning messages continue over time, the person holding back feels increasingly powerless, anxious, and ultimately depressed - all of which, if prolonged over long periods, markedly increases the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.
Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at the Carnegie Mellon University, has studied factors responsible for catching a cold with exacting methods.
Cohen assigns precise numerical values to the factors that make one person come down with a cold while another stays healthy. Those with an ongoing personal conflict were 2.5 times as likely as others to get a cold, putting rocky relationships in the same causal range as vitamin C deficiency and poor sleep.
Of all the sorts of stress, the worst by far was when someone was a target of harsh criticism and was helpless to do anything about it.
Why this has been so has been revealed by Margaret Kemeny, an expert in behavioral medicine at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, who analyzed hundreds of stress studies with her colleague Sally Dickerson. Threats or challenges, Kemeny told me, are most stressful "when you have an audience and feel you are being judged." .......Dickerson and Kemeny argue that being evaluated threatens the "social self", the ways we see ourselves through others' eyes. This sense of our social value and status - and so our very self-worth - comes from the cumulative messages we get from others about how they perceive us. Such threats to our standing in the eyes of others are remarkably potent biologically, almost as powerful as those to our very survival.
An interviewer's unnerving hostile reaction reliably triggers the HPA axis to produce some of the highest levels of cortisol of any laboratory stress simulation ever tested.
Relationships that are continually critical, rejecting, or harassing keep the HPA axis in constant overdrive.
The hippocampus, near the amygdala in the midbrain, is our central organ for learning. This structure enables us to convert the contents of "working memory" - new information held briefly in the prefrontal cortex - into long term form for storage. This neural act is the heart of learning. ........The hippocampus is especially vulnerable to ongoing emotional distress, because of the damaging effects of cortisol. Under prolonged stress, cortisol attacks the neurons of the hippocampus, slowing the rate at which neurons are added or even reducing the total number, with a disastrous impact on learning. The actual killing off of hippocampal neurons occurs during sustained cortisol floods induced, for example, by severe depression or intense trauma. (However, with recovery, The hippocampus regains neurons and enlarges again). Even when the stress is less extreme, extended periods of high cortisol seem to hamper these same neurons.
Cortisol stimulates the amygdala while it impairs the hippocampus forcing our attention onto the emotions we feel, while restricting our ability to take in new information. Instead we imprint what is upsetting us.
The social brain makes a crucial distinction between accidental and intentional harm and it reacts more strongly if it seems malevolent. This finding may solve a puzzle for clinicians attempting to understand PTSD: why catastrophes of similar intensity more often lead to lasting suffering if the person feels their trauma was purposely inflicted by someone else rather than a random act of nature. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural catastrophes leave many fewer victims of PTSD than do malicious acts like rape and physical abuse. The aftereffects of trauma, like all stress, are worse the more personally targeted the victim feels.
The left prefrontal area regulates a cascade of circuitry in lower brain areas that determine our recovery time from distress - that is our resilience. The more of this left prefrontal activity (relative to the right side), the better we are at developing cognitive strategies for emotional regulation and faster our emotional recovery. That in turn determines how quickly cortisol returns to normal.
Resilient health depend in part on how well the high road has learned to manage the low. ........
Richard Davidson's (University of Wisconsin) research group discovered that activity in the same left prefrontal area correlated highly with the ability of a person's immune system to respond to a flu shot. Those with the highest activation had immune systems that mobilized flu antibodies three times more than did others. Davidson believes that these differences are clinically significant - in other words, that those with high left prefrontal activity are less likely to get the flu if exposed to the virus.
Davidson sees in such data a window on the anatomy of resilience. A soundly secure relationship history, he theorizes, gives people the inner resources to bounce back from emotional setbacks and losses .

Structure Of Social Brain
Structurally, the extensive neural modules that orchestrate our activities as we relate to other people - consists of circuitry that extends far and wide. There is no single site controlling social interaction anywhere within the brain. Rather, the social brain is a set of distinct but fluid and wide ranging neural networks that synchronize around relating to others. It operates at the systems level, where far flung neural networks are coordinated to serve a unifying purpose.
As yet neuroscience has no generally agreed-upon specific map for the social brain, though converging studies are starting to zero in on areas most often active during social interactions. An early proposal identified structures in the prefrontal area, particularly the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, in connection with areas in the subcortex, especially the amygdala. More recent studies show that that proposal remains largely on target, while adding other details.

While we attune to the other person, the brain undergoes two varieties of empathy: a fast low road flow via connections between the sensory cortices, thalamus and amygdala, and on to our response; and a slower high road flow that runs from the thalamus up to the neocortex and then down to the amygdala and on to our more thoughtful response. Emotional contagion runs through that first pathway, allowing our automatic neural mimicking of the feelings of the other person. But that second pathway, which loops up to the thinking brain, offers a more considered empathy, one that holds the possibility of shutting down our attunement if we choose to.
Here the connection from the limbic circuitry to the OFC and the ACC comes into play. These areas are active in perceiving another person's emotion and in fine tuning our own emotional reaction.
The OFC connects directly, neuron to neuron, three major regions of the brain: the cortex (or "thinking brain", the amygdala (the trigger point for many emotional reactions), and the brain stem (the "reptilian" zones for automatic response). This tight connection suggests a rapid and powerful linkage, one that facilitates instantaneous coordination of thought, feeling and action.This neural autobahn swirls together low road inputs from the emotional centers, the body, and the senses, and high road lanes that find meaning in that data, creating intentional plans that guide our actions.
Spindle cells form particularly thick connections between the OFC and the ACC. The ACC directs our attention and coordinates our thoughts, our emotions and the body's response to our feelings. This linkage creates a neural command center of sorts....
Spindle cells concentrate in an area of the OFC which activates during our emotional reactions to others - particularly instant empathy.

The prefrontal cortex in general has the task of modulating our emotions in ways that are appropriate and effective; if what the other person says troubles us, the prefrontal area allows us to continue the conversation and remain focused despite our own upset.......
The OFC contains one of the array of neurons that can inhibit those amygdala-driven surges, that can just say no to limbic impulses. As the low road circuitry sends up primitive emotional impulses (I feel like yelling, or She's making me so nervous I want to get out of here), the OFC evaluates them in terms of a more sophisticated understanding of the moment (This is a library, or It's only our first date) and modulates them accordingly, acting as an emotional brake. ...........
If we have to think over what to make of the other person's emotional message, the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal regions help us ponder what it all means and consider our alternatives. What response, for instance, will work both in the immediate situation and yet be in keeping with our long-term goals? [The ventromedial region plays a crucial role in integrating brain systems for memory, emotion and feeling; damage here compromises social decision making].
Beneath all this interpersonal dance, the cerebellum down at the base of the brain has been keeping our attention well targeted so that we can monitor the other person, picking up even subtle cues of fleeting facial expressions. Nonverbal unconscious synchrony - say the intricate choreography of a conversation - requires us to pick up an ongoing cascade of social cues. And that in turn depends on ancient structures in the brain stem, particularly the cerebellum and the basal ganglia. Their role in smooth interactions gives these lower brain areas an ancillary role in the circuitry of the social brain. .................. When it comes to empathy, "hot" affective circuitry must tie into these "cold" sensory and motor circuits - that is the emotionally dry sensorimotor system must communicate with the affective center in the limbic system. The UCLA team proposes that the most likely candidate for this connector anatomically seems to be a region of the insula, which ties together limbic areas with parts of the frontal cortex.[fMRI studies suggest that the insula links the mirroring systems (composed of mirror neurones) to the limbic area, generating the emotional component of the neural loop.]
Then when it comes to empathizing with specific emotion, the NIMH researchers suggest that further distinctions are possible. ........Fearful expressions seem to light up the amygdala but rarely the orbitofrontal cortex, while angry ones activate the OFC and not the amygdala. That difference may relate to the differing function of each emotion: with fear, our attention goes to what has caused the fear, while with anger we focus on what to do to reverse that person's reaction. And when it comes to disgust, the amygdala stays out of the picture; the action instead involves structures in the basal ganglia and anterior insula.


The Living Force
Thanks for the heads up on this book Alana, & thanks Obyvatel for the excerpts.
When reading about the "low road" and emotional contagion it brought to mind similarities with "identifying" in 4th way terms. It seems we are hard wired for emotional contagion ("identifying"), No wonder it is so difficult to stay in the "present".

Good read.


Jedi Master
Emotional Intelligence can help you reduce stress

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Social Intelligence and Leadership


FOTCM Member
Re: Emotional Intelligence can help you reduce stress

Just a note that it is best to look if there is already a thread on a similar topic, in order to collect all the relevant information in one place. For example, there is already a thread on Emotional Intelligence and Daniel Goleman's work here.
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