Posts Tagged ‘brain 2.0’

The Social Brain Online

March 5, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Here the question is how do social brains interact when we’re sitting looking at a video monitor instead of directly at another person? There was a major clue about the problems ever since the beginning of the internet, when it was just scientists emailing on what was called ARPAnet. The problem was, and still is, flaming. Goleman writes, “Flaming happens when someone is a little upset—or very upset—and with their amygdala in firm control, furiously types out a message and hits “send” before thinking about it—and that hijack hits the other person in their inbox. Now the more technical term for flaming is cyber-disinhibition, because we realize that the disconnect between the social brain and the video monitor releases the amygdala from the usual management by the more reasonable prefrontal areas.”

Online the social brain has no feedback loop: unless you are in a live, face-to-face teleconference, the social circuitry has no input. It doesn’t know how the other person is reacting so it can’t guide our response—do this, don’t do that—as it does automatically and instantly in face-to-face interactions. Instead of acting as a social radar, the social brain says nothing—and that unleashes the amygdala to flame and cause a hijack.

A phone call gives these circuits ample emotional cues from tone of voice to understand the emotional nuance of what you say. But email lacks all these inputs.

One reason personal connection is so important for online communication has to do with the social brain/video monitor interface. When we’re at our keyboard and we think a message is positive, and we hit send, what we don’t realized at the neural level is that all the nonverbal cues, facial expression, tone of voice, gesture and so on, stay with us. There’s a negativity bias to email: when the sender thinks the email was positive, the receiver tends to see it as neutral. When the sender thinks it’s neutral, the receiver tends to interpret it as somewhat negative. The big exception is when you know the person well; that bond overcomes the negativity bias.

Clay Shirky, who studies social networks and the web at New York University, tells an example of a local bank security team that had to operate 24 hours a day. In order for them to operate well, it was critical that they use what he calls a banyan tree model, where key members of each group get together and meet key members of every other group, so that in an emergency they can contact each other and get a clear sense of how to evaluate the message the group was sending. If someone in the receiving group knows that person well, or has a contact there whom he can ask about the person who sent the message, then the receiving group can better gauge how much to rely on it.

Goleman says that one enormous upside of the web is what you might call brain 2.0. Shirky points our, the potential for social networking to multiply our intellectual capital is enormous. It’s sort of a super-brain, the extended brain on the web. In the healthy memory blog, this is termed transactive memory.

Goleman writes that the term group IQ refers to the sum total of the best talents of each person on a team, or in a group, contributed at full force. What Goleman does not say is that the group can be more than the sum of its parts due to beneficial interactions within the group. He does note that one factor that makes the actual group IQ less than its potential is a lack of interpersonal harmony in the group. Vanessa Druskat of the University of New Hampshire has studied was she calls group EQ—things like being able to surface and resolve conflicts among the group, high levels of trust and mutual understanding. Not surprisingly, her research show that groups with the highest collective emotional intelligence outperform the others. Goleman notes the when you apply this to groups working together online, one core operating principle is that the more channels that come into the social brain, the more easily attuned you can be. So, when you video-conference, you have visual, body and voice cues. Even if it’s a conference call, the voice is extraordinarily rich in emotional cues. In any case, if you’e working together just through text, it’s best when you know the other person well, or at least have some sense of them in order to have a context for reading their messages, so you can overcome the negativity bias. Best of all is leaving your office or cubicle and getting together to talk with the person.