BOOKCASE : Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

• Daniel Goleman • Random House • $69.99

“Laugh and the world laughs with you” goes the old saying – but it seems weeping can be just as contagious, along with anger, fear, excitement or love.
Most of us are aware emotions can be catching, whether at an interpersonal level or in rugby-watching crowd, but advances in the relatively new world of ‘social neuroscience’ demonstrate the extent to which our brains are hardwired for interactivity – and how relationships with those close to us can mould not just our experience but our biology.
In this way “nourishing relationships” benefit our health while toxic ones “act like slow poison”, according to Daniel Goleman.
The man who put “emotional intelligence” into corporate vocabularies with his 1995 book has come up with companion volume that in his words takes “individual emotional acuity into those ephemeral moments that emerge as we interact” and, essentially, “create one another”.
Social Intelligence: the new science of human relationships draws heavily on research about brain function – an area where technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have, by tracing the neural pathway of emotions across specific areas of the brain, enhanced knowledge of our complex neural circuitry.
Goleman delves into research on the role of “mirror neurons” and of specialised “spindle” braincells in how we tune into and are influenced by the internal states of people around us – how our “brains interlock, spreading emotions like viruses”.
It shows not only how partners having an argument reflect and build each other’s emotional states but how those emotions are also mirrored even by neutral observer.
He also charts incidents of social corrosion and creeping disconnection – how in cars, on computers, glued to cell phones or iPods, we increasingly tend to stay in touch ‘at arm’s length’.
It’s all fascinating stuff that is highly relevant to personal, business and global relations.
Perhaps the crucial challenge for this century, says Goleman, will be to “expand the circle of those we count among ‘us’ and shrink the numbers we count as ‘them’”.
And laughter just may prove to be the shortest distance between two brains. – Vicki Jayne

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