The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier Hardcover – Aug 26 2014
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“What do Sardinian men, Trader Joe’s employees, and nuns have in common? Real social networks—though not the kind you’ll find on Facebook or Twitter. Susan Pinker’s delightful book shows why face-to-face interaction at home, school and work makes us healthier, smarter and more successful.”
—Charles Duhigg, New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
“Intimate, face-to-face contact with partners, family, and friends is an ancient and deep human need. How do group-living primates like us make the transition to an online world in the evolutionary blink of an eye? Can they? Pinker shows how this is happening. And—even more important—she shows us how this should happen with a valuable prescription based on the best science. Pinker writes with authority and verve, and she offers an integrated treatment of online and offline interactions. She sketches our modern digital interactions on the ancient parchment of our minds.”
—Nicholas Christakis, author and psychologist, Human Nature Lab, Yale University
“We have a biological drive for social interaction. We long to belong. Susan Pinker’s new book reveals the type of social contact that makes us tick. Written with verve, warmth, and style, it presents new science about what matters—raising healthy kids, leading a long and engaged life, being successful at work and play. This is a gem of a book!”
—Andrew N. Meltzoff, Co-Director, University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences; co-author of The Scientist in the Crib
“For those who look forward to life with cool robots, think again. Pinker shows us crucial personal interactions are essential to true human feelings. Brilliant and compelling.” —Michael Gazzaniga, Professor of Psychology, Director for the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara
“Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect is a bold, intelligent foray into what social isolation does to each of us in an age of technology. She offers keen insights into how social engagement enhances romance, parenting, career, family and friendship. Most impressively, Susan Pinker explores how gender and invisible social forces play into our daily lives.”
—Susan Shapiro Barash, author of The Nine Phases of Marriage and Toxic Friends
“In this provocative and engaging new book, Susan Pinker shows how intimate social contact is a fundamental human need, and argues that Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of social media fail to meet this need, diminishing the lives of children, teenagers, and everybody else. Pinker is a great storyteller and a thoughtful scholar, and she expertly blends together personal stories and scientific research about marriage, cancer, obesity, happiness, longevity, religion, menstrual synchrony, solitary confinement, and much more. This is an important book, one that will shape how we think about the increasingly virtual world we all live in.”
—Paul Bloom, Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology, Yale University; author of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil
“In a time when we rely increasingly on virtual forms of communication and networking, The Village Effect is an important reminder of the value we derive from our real, personal networks—and what we lose when we replace them with the social networks of the online age. Susan Pinker has written a fascinating, nuanced study of that most fundamental need: the need for human connection. No matter how far technology evolves, she reminds us, some things can never be replaced.”
—Maria Konnikova, New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
“Susan Pinker has applied her keen intelligence to the question of human flourishing. This lively and meticulously researched book shows that face-to-face human interactions—not computer-mediated communication—are key to our well-being. Direct and frequent human contact is at least as important to our survival as clean air or good nutrition. ‘Hell is other people,’ declared the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Not so, says Pinker. With a raft of surprising data, this compulsively readable book reminds us that loneliness and isolation are our blights—other people are the source of our happiness.”
—Christina Hoff Sommers, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institut
“Do you like email, text messages, and social media? So do I. But as Susan Pinker shows in this terrific book, electronic communication can never replace our deeply rooted, fundamentally human need for face-to-face interaction. Drawing on cutting-edge research in social neuroscience, and supplementing the science with case studies and sharp observations, Pinker makes a hardheaded case for a softhearted virtue. Read this book. Then talk about it—in person!—with a friend.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
Praise for The Sexual Paradox:
Winner of the APA William James Book Award
"Intelligent, thoughtful, and profoundly important." --Daily Mail
"Pinker provides a readable combination of personal and objective information." --Winnipeg Free Press
About the Author
SUSAN PINKER is a developmental psychologist, journalist and author whose first book, The Sexual Paradox, won the American Psychological Association's most prestigious literary prize, the William James Book Award, and was published in 17 countries. A national columnist, lecturer and broadcaster whose work has garnered many writing awards, Pinker's ideas have been featured in The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Atlantic, the Financial Times, Der Spiegel, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. She lives in Montreal.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
In a sexist but evident way, this book shows that matriarchy rules society; women position themselves as alphas in most villages and can determine who fits into the community and who sits on the fringes. Men, however, consistently display the inclination to squirrel away, especially if they're married. If they make no effort to socialize, they easily find themselves one person away from being completely alone. But interestingly, Pinker also explores the negative aspects of a close-knit circle. She cites the Ponzi schemes of Bernie Madoff and Eddie Jones as an example of the dark side to community; too much trust can backfire.
Susan Pinker writes in an unassuming manner and renders facts with a plain ease. She sites a multitude of studies but cohesively weaves them into a well-researched, decisive thesis. She also brings personality into the chapters, relaying anecdotes and adding humanity to what would otherwise read as a tedious synthesis of research papers. At times the reader wants to interject that correlation does not necessarily mean causation but overall the varied sources and results of environmental tracking get harder to ignore when they all reach the same conclusions.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I love this book despite or even because of its lack of progression toward a set of directions that lead one to action.
This book brings about reflection as one turns pages. The evidence for us that human connection and bonds is good for health is so big that one cannot argue against the point. Instead one is enticed to reflect about their own experiences and what they want out of life for themselves and the ones they love.
I guess no review is complete without listing some (but not all) types of evidence referred to in the author's prose. Pages 271 - 332 are Notes to the preceding prose.
* Animal studies that clearly show the need for contact and a sense of belonging.
* Studies of spouses, male and female, regarding a variety of social situations.
* Studies of how females and males share food and eat socially.
* Studies of longevity.
* Coffee breaks.
* Scandals, con-artists, fraudsters, and cheaters.
* Internet activity.
* Ancient societies.
Reading this book led to many reflections that make me want to reach out to others more often and habitually. I recommend it if for no other reason than its potential to engage more people in this discourse.
I was disappointed to not see as much regarding neuroscience as I would have liked (I am, of course, very biased). In counseling right now, the need for social bonds to assist in brain development and avoiding illness is undeniable - a lack of good attachment and support systems are well known to cause mental illness. What this book excels at is explaining the very basics to a layperson.
If you want a more detailed purview, read Helen Fisher or Louis Cozolino's work. However, for most people this is a nice introduction. This book is about the behavioral manifestations of social neuroscience principals, even though it doesn't mention it literally for the most part.
Susan Pinker makes a persuasive case. Her book is well-researched and well-written. She knows what she is talking about, and clearly has thought a lot about what she says. That face-to-face contact has a different effect on us humans than Internet or other contact makes a lot of sense. There's nothing face-to-face about Facebook. Humans have long been a very social species, and our modern lifestyles seem to bring a little alienation and distance between even people who live close to one another. Internet ties do little to bring the closeness that being together in the flesh brings.
But while the book made me think, I also thought the book had a big flaw -- making too much out of stories and experiences. Susan Pinker begins the book with a lengthy description of some people living long lives in a mountain village on the Italian island of Sardinia, arguing that their close social contacts lead to their long lives. That could be true. But it can also be that genetics play a part, or lifestyle, or environmental factors. Human beings are complex, not simple. It's dangerous to connect cause and effect based on anecdotes, no matter how powerful or detailed. That kind of science is too soft.
Some other things that bothered me are less important. The sister of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (the last name certainly caught my eye and made me wonder whether she was spouse, sister, or daughter), Susan Pinker works that fact into her book awfully casually, saying several times just "my brother Steve." She also makes some glowing remarks about her son and daughter and works them into the book in a way that seemed a little too pushy and personal. (Her husband too is mentioned, but just as an aside and in a much less personal way.)
And the blurbs from well-known authors like Daniel Pink and Charles Duhigg seemed to me unwarranted, and maybe due to her brother's name being the same as her own. That may be too harsh an indictment for the evidence I have, but her book seemed a far cry from a book like Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Not that there is anything wrong with different writing styles and different ways of thinking. But while Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature seems to me a book that everyone should read, Susan Pinker's The Village Effect seemed a lot less substance and a lot more fluff. Not a bad book, certainly, but not an outstanding one either.
Much of what Susan Pinker tells us in THE VILLAGE EFFECT, resulting from the research to which she refers, is common sense. But reinforcing our common sense and having it confirmed by research can influence us to constructively change our behaviors. Those of us who are neglecting our f2f relationships (the difficulties of forming bonds, and both the trials and satisfactions of real presence) can benefit by taking the time to focus on Pinker's conclusions about how f2f relationships nourish us in ways that online connections (which are easier to form and leave behind, and are less intimate) fail to do so.
In what ways to f2f relationships benefit us? Research shows that people who have a strong network of f2f relationships (close relationships, a range of weaker connections, and belonging to a community) live longer, have stronger immune systems, are less inclined to have cancer, heart disease and dementia, and are better able to handle stress. They are also happier, and the reward centers of their brains are more active, releasing more oxytocin and endorphins.
According to Pinker, the greatest gains results from belonging to a community of likeminded people, off similar age, education and marital status, geographical proximity, with whom we feel known and cared for in reciprocal relationships
Pinker is not opposed to the Internet or relating online. But she is concerned - as I am as well - with the effects of excessive online activity and interaction upon f2f relationships. Her research shows (though she does not always refer to reliable sources) that "emotional closeness declines by 13% a year in the absence of f2f contact." Our offline relationships deteriorate - and a result, so do our emotional satisfaction and health.
Online connections do not meet our physical needs. We don't make eye contact, exchange hugs, share meals, experience directly each other's emotions and nonverbal signals. We are not able to be fully present with the other when he/she is in distress. Above all, from my perspective as a chronically ill senior citizen, online friends are not there to help each other with physical tasks, such as picking each other up from the airport or hospital.
When we spend more time online and less time interacting in person, we actually feel lonelier and more isolated. We are substituting breadth for depth, mental disembodied connection for full presence.
Ironically, Pinker does not explore in depth precisely what we gain during the experience of real f2f contact. Rather, she flits around her subject (as if hyperlinked herself) referring to one research study after another. Her approach is indeed worthwhile and convincing, but I personally would also like some deeper exploration. What actually happens within us when we make eye contact? What energy is exchanged when two people are fully present with each other? Why is online connecting so compelling? Why are some of us likely to seek refuge on the Net rather than relate more fully to the people around us, or invest the effort into developing new relationships?
In citing different research results from social neuroscience, Pinker does not always differentiate between various kinds of f2f connections. Being surrounded by people or part of an extended family may not be satisfying if we can't safely communicate or confide in any of them.
At the end of THE VILLAGE EFFECT, Pinker presents very clearly key principles to help motivate us to form and maintain fulfilling f2f relationships. This means making them a priority higher than screen time. I found these principles helpful in regard to clarifying my own interpersonal aims, and motivating me to more deeply invest in my real life friendship.
THE VILLAGE EFFECT is an important book. Yes, much of it is common sense, and all the research mentioned is not totally reliable. But our society is suffering from screen addiction, using the Internet (and television and dvds) for immediate gratification and avoidance of the difficulties of real relationships. The result is likely to be more dysfunctional families, more lonely and isolated individuals, and an overall decline in psychological and physical wellbeing.
The great value in THE VILLAGE EFFECT is that it may motivate each of us to put the book down or turn away from the screen, and make real contact with some of the people in our lives.
I loved reading about babies and how they learn from our actions by watching and imitating us. No question we need to interact face to face with our children. But, too often, technology is being handed to the very young getting them hooked on it from an early age.
There's intriguing information on relationships between couples, friends, families, co-workers, you name it. Why we need different types of people in our society to make a strong community. Why we need to be able to interact directly with one another to make the connections and bonds to each other stronger.
There's a lot that you may already know or be aware of. Still, I found it a very interesting book in which I found some new to me information and things to ponder over. Psychology is always a fascinating topic.