By Daniel Goleman
Neuroscience tells us that the phrase “the social brain” refers to “the particular set of circuitry that is orchestrated as people relate to each other.” Goleman explains the importance of brain mapping and its relevance to social intelligence through stories and scientific data.
According to Goleman, the two broad categories of social intelligence are awareness and facility.
Social awareness is the ability to sense another’s inner state, to “get” what is going on in complicated social situations. This includes empathy, attunement, understanding, and knowing how the social world works.
Social facility builds on social awareness to facilitate smooth, effective interactions with others. This includes synchrony, self-presentation, influence, and compassion. The social architecture of the brain comprises both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities that work in conjunction to navigate social settings and engage in human relationships. In other words, we are “wired to connect.”
Goleman writes that “the exquisite social responsiveness of the brain demands that we recognize, not just our own emotions but, that our very biology is being driven and molded, for better or for worse, by others and in turn, that we take responsibility for how we affect the people in our lives.” Vitality arises from sheer human contact, especially from loving connections. The hidden links among our relationships, our brain function, and our very health and well-being are stunning in their implications. From Goleman’s perspective, strong distressing states like disgust, contempt, and explosive anger are the emotional equivalent of secondhand smoke that quietly damages the lungs of others who breathe it.
In this sense, social responsibility begins here and now, when we act in ways that help create optimal states in others, from those we encounter casually to those we love and care about most dearly. As Goleman says, “The social brain’s wiring connects us all at our common human core.”
Social Intelligence is a recommended read for everyone. The book is long, but well-documented with excellent research. The most important take-away is the impact of our social interaction on our health.