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This content is taken from the Central Queensland University's online course, Orientation to Educational Neuroscience. Join the course to learn more.

The Brain as a Social Organ

“The human brain is very much a social organ” (Cozolino 2013, p.3). ​

From the beginning of human existence, humans have needed relationships and attachment because they do not exist well in isolation. Many authors agree that humans need, perhaps yearn, to be understood because the things we say have little meaning until someone else relates to and understands it (Botton, 2013; Cozolino, 2014). This is true regardless of age, race or gender. Everyone needs to feel safe and be a part of what Cozolino (2014) calls a ‘tribe’. Within a tribe our brains are shaped through communication and trusting relationships. Cozolino (2014, p. 4) writes:​

“Relationships are our natural habitat and the drive to belong is a fundamental human motivation. From birth until death, each of us needs others to help us feel safe, seek us out, and show interest in discovering who we are. Regardless of age, it is vital for us to feel a part of, participate in, and contribute to our various tribes. This is as true for principals, teachers, and school board members as it is for our students. …the brain evolved into a social organ, shaped by the tribal environment to which it had to adapt for thousands of generations”.​

In the video below by Professor Dr. Lou Cozolino (2011), we learn that neuroscience has only just scratched the surface of what we know about the brain. His explanation reveals that our brains require stimulation and connection to survive and thrive. Unlike other organs, our brain has evolved to connect with other brains. Empathy is the term used to describe our ability to sense and imagine the feelings of the others.

Cozolino provides an excellent example of empathy that most people can relate to. Cozolino (2011) states that:

“When we see a child walking off a field after a soccer game looking sad because they have just lost, there is part of us that turns and curls down as well, so we feel their sadness”.​

Professor Cozolino explains that research has found that this happens because our brain creates an internal model of the experience of the other. Later in this course, we will examine why teachers should strive to create positive social experiences in the classroom, so keep this example in mind.​

In the next part of Professor Cozolino’s video, he delves into the social brain.


This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.


After watching the video, read the introduction to Cozolino’s book, ‘The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the classroom

As you read, note any new revelations that you may not have considered before.​

How might this change your approach to your teaching?​ Feel free to share your thoughts with your peers in the comments.

In your own time, you may wish to read the first chapter from Louis Cozolino’s book​.

Further Reading​

Chapter 1, ‘The evolution and development of the social brain’ from Louis Cozolino’s book. ​

References​

Capellainspires (2011, May). Louis Cozolino - The brain is a social organ. [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYokFn1nw4Q&feature=youtu.be ​
Cozolino, L. (2011). The brain is a social organ. [video file]. Retreived from https://youtu.be/MYokFn1nw4Q​
Cozolino, L. (2014). Our Social Brains. The Neuropsychotherapist Journal.​
Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: attachment and the developing social brain (2nd edition). W. W. Norton & Company​
De Botton, A. (2013). The consolations of philosophy. Vintage.

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This video is from the free online course:

Orientation to Educational Neuroscience

Central Queensland University