UNTITLED ON THE SOCIAL BRAIN
A flood of new research over the past decade in the field known as social neuroscience has revealed how fundamentally our brains are designed to make us social beings, and how much, in turn, our brains are shaped by the manner of our social experiences, such as the kind of nurturing we get from our parents.
Science writer Genevieve Wanucha was inspired to write this account of that explosion of new findings by the poignant experience of watching her mother suffer from a type of degenerative brain disease, called fronto-temporal dementia, which progressively robs the sufferer of the ability to experience emotions, to have emotional bonds with others, and ultimately to interact with others in any meaningful way. The new findings in social neuroscience have illuminated what is happening in the brain to the sufferers of this disorder.
Wanucha illuminates the development of social neuroscience from the earliest findings, several decades ago, to the cutting-edge work of today. Profiling the leading researchers who have made the discoveries, traveling to their labs and describing their breakthrough studies, she introduces how the healthy social brain produces bonds that are continually forming, dissolving, and evolving during every stage of human life, and how our social connections, enabled by specific, newly discovered motor and mirror neurons, allow us to empathize, predict others’ intentions, and “get inside someone’s head.”
She describes fascinating findings about how crying and laughing in infants are survival bonding mechanisms that assure parental attention; reveals the latest understanding about how empathy works and why some people suffer from a lack of it; explores findings about what is happening in the brain when we engage in conversation and a number of intriguing findings about the mechanisms in the brain that govern sexual attraction and the development of love; and profiles promising discoveries about what causes such disorders as autism and a number of emotional disorders and how they might ultimately be treated or even cured.
Genevieve Wanucha has been published in SEED Magazine and Technology Review, and currently reviews books for NPR.org. She comes from the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, where she won the 2008-2009 S. Klein Prize