- Apr 2022
The way technologies like fMRI are applied is aproduct of our brainbound orientation; it has not seemed odd or unusual toexamine the individual brain on its own, unconnected to others.
In part because of modalities of studying the brain using methods like fMRI where the images are of an individual's head, we focus too much and too exclusively on single brains bound to individuals rather than on brains working in concert.
Greater flexibilities in tools and methods should help do studies of humans working in concert.
Link this to the anecdote:
I recall a radiology test within a medical school setting in which students were asked to diagnose an x-ray of a human patient's skull. Most either guessed small hairline fractures in the skull or that there was nothing wrong with the patient.
Can you diagnose the patient?
Almost all the students failed the question, and worse felt like idiots when the answer was revealed: the patient must be dead because the spinal column and the rest of the body are not attached. Compare:
the brain stores social information differently thanit stores information that is non-social. Social memories are encoded in a distinctregion of the brain. What’s more, we remember social information moreaccurately, a phenomenon that psychologists call the “social encodingadvantage.” If findings like this feel unexpected, that’s because our culturelargely excludes social interaction from the realm of the intellect. Socialexchanges with others might be enjoyable or entertaining, this attitude holds, butthey’re no more than a diversion, what we do around the edges of school orwork. Serious thinking, real thinking, is done on one’s own, sequestered fromothers.
"Social encoding advantage" is what psychologists refer to as the phenomenon of people remembering social information more accurately than other types.
Reference to read: “social encoding advantage”: Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (New York: Crown, 2013), 284.
It's likely that the social acts of learning and information exchange in oral societies had an additional stickiness over and beyond the additional mnemonic methods they would have used as a base.
The Western cultural tradition doesn't value the social coding advantage because it "excludes social interaction from the realm of the intellect" (Paul, 2021). Instead it provides advantage and status to the individual thinking on their own. We greatly prefer the idea of the "lone genius" toiling on their own, when this is hardly ever the case. Our availability bias often leads us to believe it is the case because we can pull out so many famous examples, though in almost all cases these geniuses were riding on the shoulders of giants.
Reference to read: remember social information more accurately: Jason P. Mitchell, C. Neil Macrae, and Mahzarin R. Banaji, “Encoding-Specific Effects of Social Cognition on the Neural Correlates of Subsequent Memory,” Journal of Neuroscience 24 (May 2004): 4912–17
Reference to read: the brain stores social information: Jason P. Mitchell et al., “Thinking About Others: The Neural Substrates of Social Cognition,” in Social Neuroscience: People Thinking About Thinking People, ed. Karen T. Litfin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 63–82.