Matthew D. Lieberman was trained at Harvard University and is professor in the Departments of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the founding editor of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
In this positive work, the author begins by proclaiming that our brains are set up in such a way that we need to connect with other people. This important finding is based on a decade of research in social neuroscience at UCLA using fMRI (frontal magnetic resonance imaging). The fact that "our brains are built to practice thinking about the social world and our place in it" is one explanation for why Facebook is so popular: it provides an efficient way to stay in touch with people and to measure our connections.
Lieberman takes a hard look at the other side of the coin: the social pain that emanates from the death of a loved one, the loss that comes with divorce or losing one's job, or the humiliation of being picked last for a team in gym class. Social pain causes a lot of suffering, and people spend large doses of time and money to combat it.
In a time when most of us still adhere to the idea that self-interest lies behind all of our actions, even when we are doing good, it is salutary to learn that we are animated by our brains to seek the well-being and welfare of others. Lieberman does a good job explaining the value of empathy as a process that propels us to help others.
"Empathy is arguably the pinnacle of our social cognitive achievements — the peak of the social brain. It requires us to understand the inner emotional worlds of other people and then act in ways that benefit other people and our relationships with them. It can motivate us to alleviate another's pain or to celebrate someone else's good fortune."
Lieberman opens things up a bit in the last three chapters where he examines how we can make the workplace, schools, and other institutions more responsive to social wiring. Reading this report, we find ourselves very encouraged by the research proving our brains are wired to seek the well-being of others.