Our Brain, Socialization and the Power of Words.


Chris Parker

The Power of Words

M A K I N G   B E T T E R   T H I N G S   H A P P E N

This month’s blog is a brief consideration of just how important socialization and, therefore, communication is to us as individuals and as a species. I’m starting the year with this because, given what’s happening in the world, it seems even more important than usual to stress that we are inherently social beings and our success and survival depends upon the quality of our interactions and connectivity.

What follows is an edited excerpt from the book The Brain Always Wins that I co-authored with leading American Clinical Sport Psychologist and Applied Sport Scientist Dr John Sullivan. I hope you find it interesting and useful:

Our brain is not only influenced by our social interactions, it also drives our need for them. We have what we might think of as a social brain. We are truly wired to connect. And if you ever wondered why our brain is so large relative to our body size, the answer is coming up right now:  We have large brains in order to socialize.

In fact the greatest indicator of brain size, particularly the outermost layer known the neocortex, is the size of the social group in which the species lives.

Scientists think that the first of our ancestors to have brains as large as our own lived 600,000 years ago in Africa. Known as homo heidelbergensis, they predate both homo sapiens and the Neanderthals and were, interestingly, the first hominids who worked collaboratively when hunting.

Now, of course, we collaborate in myriad ways. It makes sense that we do. Collaboration helps us to survive, to learn and maintain our dominance as a species. We have large brains so we can socialize in large groups. We socialize because successful socialization significantly increases our chances of having our physical and emotional needs met, of problem solving more successfully and, in the long-term, the survival of our species. Once again, the brain always wins.

In fact socialization is so important to us, we even tend to think about our social life whenever we are alone and have a free moment or two. Have you ever stopped to consider why, if you are not involved in an active task that requires your brain’s resources to be connecting in a specific way, it leads you to think so often about your social connections? 

It’s because of what neuroscientists refer to as the brain’s default network. This is an interconnected and anatomically definable system that activates whenever we engage in such internal activities as daydreaming, recalling memories, or imagining the future, all of which are activities usually based around our social interactions. Hence we automatically spend at least some of our downtime seeking to make sense of the motives, goals and feelings of others – especially if they appear to differ from our own.

The question this raises is:  Do we instinctively think of social matters during our spare time because we experience so many social interactions, or because our brain is built to do this?

At first glance it seems like a chicken and egg question - which came first? - and in one sense it is. Especially when you consider that, according to one, study 70% of our conversations are based on social matters. The good news, however, relating to this particular cause or consequence conundrum is that researchers can offer us an answer. It is based primarily on the following 2 insights:

  1. Newborn babies demonstrate default network activity, leading to the conclusion that this brain system exists and operates long before a person has any interest in the complexities of the social world.​
  2. The default network system activates even when people take only a brief rest from a demanding activity. In others words, even when we might expect a person’s mind to stay focused on a task the brain automatically flips their attention back to their social interactions.

It seems, then, that the default network is an essential part of our brain’s wiring, rather than the result of inevitable social activity. The default network is a powerful indication of the fact that we are inherently social beings and that creating strong social bonds provides many short and long-term benefits relating to our survival, our development and our sense of personal identity and self-worth.

In order to create these strong social bonds we must recognize and then learn how to manage the power of words.



(The Brain Always Wins is published by Urbane Publications and 
is available from Amazon and directly from www.urbanepublications.com)