You Need to be Social?

I read an article this morning about a research study that found that those that are "social" have a different brain structure than those that aren't. The snapshot of a moment in the form of a brain scan tells nothing about the how or why of this structural difference, leaving the age-old debate of nature vs nurture intact and going strong. In other words, my reaction was, "it took you this long to figure this out?"

The study, comprised of 41 randomly selected men that were given a questionnaire and brain scans, deduced that those that responded positively to questions about making a warm, personal connection and being emotionally demonstrative had larger orbitofrontal cortexes and ventral striatums than those that responded negatively. It led the scientists to theorize that specific brain structure could produce a pleasant personality, but so could being pleasant alter brain structure. Their conclusion: Evolution has brought social need down to the basic needs level.

This conclusion raises more than a few questions. Compare it to the widely known and accepted "Hierarchy of Needs," devised by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943.

The needs pyramid illustrates the level of psychic energy required to meet the needs of each level. As a person fulfills the needs of one level, psychic energy is freed to attend to the needs on the next, higher level. More a process than a snapshot, the levels shift constantly and are not static in nature. What time has proven out, the pyramid also correlates to the number of people able to address the needs at the higher levels, and even fewer that attain a state of self actualization.

Demoting acceptance down to the powerful biological needs of basic survival (food, clothing, shelter) seems to imply that we have evolved into sheep. Yet, our social structure of individualism is based on our economic structure: Capitalism forces the separation and distance of people's social tendencies. The statistics of the level of divorce, unwed births and the rise in crime all corresponding to economic fluctuations is the proof.

If belonging and acceptance have become as driving a need as these scientists assert, we would have seen already a major shift in our economic structure as more and more social demands replace and displace the economically reinforced demand of consumerism. Collectively, all of us have suffered the economic downfall, but have we shifted away from our economic structure and its forces to become more needy and reliant on familial and social groups?

In the United States, where consumerism rules, there has been little indication of this social shift. Minor indications would be the exorbitant cost of long-term elderly care forcing adult children to care for their parents. But, the necessary shift of extended families living together and small, self-sufficient communities are still only a component of our historical agrarian culture, and not in evidence today.

I applaud science for slowing inching its way to the "discovery" of thinking and feeling. But, it is still too juvenile and myopic to be worthwhile at predicting behavior at the least or self-understanding at the most. Keep trying!

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