In this book, Dr. Cozolino presents the brain as a social organ. He asserts that just as neurons need each other to grow and thrive through neural communication, our brains themselves need other brains, as they influence our brains' development and their capacity to learn, to adapt, and to heal throughout life. The brain is shaped by relationships throughout life. Indeed, "the brain is a social organ built through experience." Before purchasing this book, I expected the author to explore the parts of the brain that regulate social interactions. He exceeded my expectations.
This is a tremendously informative book for neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and for the layman. It suggests that neuroscientists adopt a social perspective in studying the brain. It lays out for psychotherapists a new approach to successful psychotherapy, which incorporates authentic relationships with their patients. It counsels parents to develop healthy relationships with their children, for the quality of parenting and early relationships leave an indelible mark on their children's brains. It emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships for the well-being of our brains.
The first part of the book, The Emergence of Social Neuroscience, coins the concept of the" social synapse". The author claims that as neurons communicate across synapses, people communicate across the social synapse. It is through this social synapse that we impact each other's neurobiology and, as a result, each other's behaviors. Our survival is contingent upon bridging this social synapse daily.
The second part, The social brain: Structures and Functions, explores the structures and systems that participate in the social functions of the brain. Specifically, it explores the cortical and subcortical structures, the sensory, motor, and affective systems, and the regulatory systems.
The third part, Bridging the Social Synapse, discusses experience-dependent plasticity, which means that our brains are able to organize and reorganize themselves (to change themselves) as we interact with our environments. Thus our brains change themselves to meet our needs.
The fourth part, Social Vision: The Language of Faces, explains the influence of gaze and facial expression on the social brain. In fact, "eye gaze plays a central role in social communication: It provides information, regulates interactions, expresses intimacy or threat, exercises social control, and facilitates coordination and cooperation." This part also expounds on the power of a pretty face.
The fifth part, Disorders of the Social Brain, explores social cognitive disorders (Autism and Asperger's Syndrome) and other social disorders (borderline personality disorder, psychopathy). It examines dysfunctional structures and/or systems of the brain that cause these disorders.
The sixth part deals with the power of loving relationships in healing an ailing brain, in changing behaviors that have been instilled by a long history of abuse. The author revisits the "components of psychotherapy that optimize neuroplasticity," thereby optimizing healing.
The mother-child relationship is a recurring theme that captures my attention and my imagination. The author presents a mother as a key player who has an extensive impact on her child's brain's plasticity and growth. The behavior and psychology of an adult is related to the quality of the mother-child relationship. He goes through several examples of how a dysfunctional mother-child relationship plagued the child's behavior. Upon reading this I started thinking about orphans and abandoned children in impoverished regions of Africa infested with war and diseases. In keeping with the arguments of Dr. Cozolino, I understand why these children have a delay in their development compared with children of the same age in Europe or America.
The section addressing the power of a beautiful face was very interesting to me. It was shocking to read that even the mother-child relationship is affected by the attractiveness of the child. Attractive children are treated better. The author mentions that the way we are treated is affected by how we look. Attractive people are afforded better jobs and are more likely to get their way, even in the court room. I personally have found myself subdued by an attractive face many times. This is because the sight of an attractive face activates the reward circuitry in the brain. I think we should learn to fight these natural inclinations for the sake of fairness and good judgment in many situations in life.
Professor Cozolino's emphasis on social neuroplasticity is a significant transition in the book. Actually, after reading about the long-lasting impact of the mother-child relationship, parenting, and early interactions on the behavior of a person as an adult, it is refreshing to read about the ability of the brain to transcend the hamstringing trauma of a troubled childhood, and to learn not to fear, to learn to love, as it is transformed loving relationships. Toward the end of this book I was looking for a testament of the power of the human mind, evidence that although one may have had an alcoholic mother, or a neglectful father, one can decide to negate all the bad memories, and take control of one's life. The author refers to this as "autonomic reversal." I was glad to read this.
The book exceeded my expectations as it examined the brain as a social organ. It explores different aspects of the social brain and stresses the power relationships have to shape the social brain. It demonstrates this power through the most basic relationship at the beginning of life: the mother-child relationship. Everyday we ought to think about how our behaviors influence each other's brains. We ought to be tolerant toward people who are somehow dysfunctional and think about how their childhood might have affected their behaviors. We ought to live a life that promotes each other's brain's growth and health.
This book is definitely worth the time spent reading it. I recommend this to anyone who wants to know about the brain in the social context and reflect on why certain reactions occur, certain fears exist, and certain addictions persist. I recommend it to any parent who is anxious about raising a child the right way. The author uses powerful real-life experiences as a psychotherapist to support his points.