Report on Psychology Group Meeting - Meeting, Friday, 21 October 2016

Though decision making, particularly those decisions involving finance, is an important aspect of our daily lives we agreed that we had spent enough time on this topic and would return to Dr David Eagleman’s series on the brain and its vital importance to the understanding of our psychology. In this meeting we looked at the episode which explores how we, as fundamentally social creatures, depend on and interact with other people or, to put it another way, how our brains interact with other brains and how this interaction is necessary not only for our own survival but also that of our very species.

Most people think of psychology as being about individual behaviour but this almost always takes place in a web of very complex social interactions. The programme shows that for this reason our brains devote much effort to the processes of communicating with and interpreting the behaviour of others, processes which involve the attachment of meaning, motives and emotions to social relationships. Even babies were shown to make social judgements relating to behaviour and later in life of course the ability to interpret social signals from others is essential in the formation of stable family and working relationships.

The programme went on to show how social cues can be very subtle and also very fleeting so much of the necessary processing has to be pre-conscious. As a consequence and without really noticing it we tend to mirror the expressions of significant others and this tends to reinforce the emotions we feel. This was emphasised by the showing of fMRI scans which demonstrated that when we see others with whom we identify suffer the brain areas associated with pain may also be highlighted. The importance of social interaction to our mental health is clearly shown by the use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment or even mental torture.

The programme concluded with a section that was very reminiscent of the meeting we devoted some time ago to the topic of social conformity. Here the phenomenon of mental templates or prejudices that create social ‘in’ groups or ‘out’ groups was discussed along with its recurring terrible consequences of genocide perpetrated by groups of normal ordinary people.

All these points in the programme stimulated interesting discussions amongst our members and I think we all felt that it was well worth watching. At our next meeting on the 18th November, we will be watching the final programme in this excellent series where Dr Eagleman looks at, or perhaps speculates on, the future of brain science and information technology and its possible psychological consequences for us all.
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