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Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Exploring Gut Instincts and the Need To Be "Social" as Applied to the Education of Our Children
Recently, I won my first book on Goodreads "First Reads". It turned out to be a fantastic read and I gave a 5 star review to the recently published best seller in psychology and neuroscience by Matthew Lieberman titled "Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect." Interestingly, Lieberman inverts Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" by viewing the need for being socially connected as even more primary than the more biological needs like eating and drinking. His reasoning is that the infant must rely on a caregiver to help him/her satisfy those physical needs because the infant is helpless to feed him/herself. And Lieberman has the neuroscience to back up his thesis, showing in his MRI experiments that our default is to favor the area of the brain that relates to being social. He does a great job of presenting his thesis that human beings are social because they are wired in their brains to be so and that it has been a driving evolutionary motivation to become socially connected, perhaps explaining our propensity toward social networking. His view of humanity is thus as caring beings who need to connect, identify with and thus defend others in one's family or tribe, rather than being driven totally by selfish motives that do not take others into account. It is enlightening to read the neurological data he presents to back up his humanistic view and I do highly recommend his book, as it is not only well-researched but also Lieberman is one of the most personal and intriguing writers of modern psychology.
What interested me the most in reading "Social" was Lieberman's discussions throughout the book of how he and his colleagues thought through the scientific investigations that he presents. Because in that process, he tells us the questions they had prior to and after experiments, and he even begins to formulate a new dimension that might answer some questions he uncovered concerning our need to be social as it relates to "delayed gratifications". Because the ability to "delay gratification" has been found in learning theories in psychology to be directly related to higher educational performance, Lieberman sees assisting the child to be socially connected as essential to the learning environment and he proposes how this needs to be considered in the educational process. My colleague, Robert Sterling, and I quite agree! Lieberman's concluding chapters end with the idea that teaching the child in an atmosphere that is conducive to gratifying one's need to be socially connected will assist the learning process by giving the child enough of a feeling of social connection to both be highly motivated to learn for social gratification (learning to teach others, for example) and to have the ability to delay gratifications as his/her needs are met. This flies in the face of the modern tradition to keep children quiet and somewhat isolated from each other in classrooms while studying. We can see with the success of "learning to teach" as a method why the little one-room school-houses that my great aunts taught in, where older children taught younger children, worked so well.
We see his thesis and views on education as directly related to both our findings concerning having gut instinctual responses or the empty-full feeling in our guts, as well as to the two needs our gut response is gauging to keep in balance—the need of acceptance (attention, socially connected) and the need of control of one's own responses to life (freedom). Delaying gratification is not easy when we lack either one of these two important and essential needs. Future experiments of MRI's on people who are feeling at the same time both accepted (socially connected) and also feeling in control (free to be themselves) would surely indicate a heightened degree of activity in the areas of the brain related to the ability to delay gratifications, as well as to increased creativity and insight. We have found this balance of the two instinctual needs met to be described by hundreds of people during and after a counseling session using the Somatic Reflection Process to be heightened in creativity and intuition, as well as providing the calm to delay gratification for higher needs, to balance the need for freedom with that of the need for acceptance, and make more gratifying and healthy personal decisions.
We hope that as Lieberman and his colleagues at UCLA continue their research that they will further investigate the need to be social along with balancing it with the equal need to be in control of one's own responses or freedom/control of one's on responses. We suggest that the gut brain response of empty-full is connected to this balance of these two instinctual needs and that the awareness of these gut feelings is a key to making it possible to delay gratifications and thus higher learning. It seems compelling at this time in neuropsychology to conduct further studies using the Somatic Reflection Process and MRI scans to understand what part of the brain "lights up"as we become aware of our gut feelings (see our post on the gauge in the gut) that gives us access to our feeling memory, and as we make decisions that both fulfill our inner needs of feeling accepted (socially connected) and in control of our own responses (freedom) to achieve body-mind unity.
We think it is a bit easier to understand humans as basically wired to be "social" when we also understand that an equal need for which we are wired is the need to be "in control of one's own responses to life or free to respond", and that these two instinctual needs must be kept in balance for well-being. This is easily understood when we see that the relationships that fulfill us the most are the ones in which we are accepted for who we really are rather than accepted for a role we are playing or simply being who we think the other person wants us to be. Our gut feeling of emptiness and fullness is somewhat like a teeter-todder, and often we give up one need for the other. Ultimately, however, we innately need to keep both of these two needs fulfilled and in balance. Our behavior is generally motivated toward that end, although it may be unconscious and it may be based on inaccurate thinking or engaged in an impossible environment to do so, thus leaving us imbalanced in our needs. It is at this point of imbalance that delaying gratification is most difficult and we feel empty in our guts. Learning takes place optimally when we are feeling a balance of these two needs met.
We have written quite a bit in our chapter on education in our book What's Behind Your Belly Button? on the importance of implementing educational environments in which children may be nourished for both their instinctual needs of freedom and of acceptance. We would like to share a short excerpt with you from page 235-236 of "What's Behind Your Belly Button?" that we think also relates to Lieberman's proposal that educational environments need to encourage the need to be socially connected. This excerpt is followed in our book by a specific plan to follow a new image of humanity teaching to both the head and gut brains that will help to vitalize our educational system:
"It is important to recognize that our use of the Somatic Reflection Process has been to help discover disturbing past experiences for an individual, and by bringing the somatic feelings related to those disturbances to cognitive levels, the individual can modify the judgment that caused the original disturbances. We would classify the use of somatic awareness in this manner as a curative process; an inefficient and expensive process that will always leave many children behind. The encouragement of somatic awareness in the early education of children is designed to be a preventive process. Exposing children to an environment of freedom and acceptance at a very early age, the experience of self-control and self-acceptance, will establish a more permanent set of neurological pathways, and will help them stay connected to their somatic feelings, retain the natural instinctual qualities with which they were born, and utilize those somatic feelings at a cognitive level throughout a more healthy, happy life—The “Acorn will become an Oak tree”."
"This change from a curative to a preventive learning experience has never been tried in a public school environment, to our knowledge, and needs to be studied over an extended period with careful professional supervision and evaluation. We believe that without freedom the child will only show the image he or she thinks is needed to assume to be accepted. Without the acceptance the child will withhold the trust in others that allows him or her to reveal his or her inner purpose to self and others. Without either freedom or acceptance the child will withdraw in despair. With a balance of both freedom and acceptance, the child will be able to fulfill his or her natural purpose, and reach out to others and share. Of course no one, not even the child, can predict his or her final destiny, but in an environment of freedom and acceptance, the experience will help keep him or her on course to ultimately help reveal the stuff—the master plan, the energy and the will—with which he or she is struggling to reach his or her destiny."
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