Justin (kenshingakuru) wrote in atheists,

Long, Sorry Don't Know How To LJ Cut...

Happy Friday Everyone...

Just wanted to share this.....

"To view the pursuit of greater equality as a process of shoe-horning societies into an uncomfortably tight-fitting shoe reflects a failure to recognize our human social potential. If we understood our social needs and susceptibilities we would see that a less unequal societies causes dramatically lower rates of ill-health and social problems because it provides us with a better-fitting shoe.

Mirror neurons are a striking example of how our biology establishes us as deeply social beings. When we watch someone doing something, mirror neurons in our brains fire as if to produce the same actions. The system is likely to have developed to serve learning by imitation. Watching a person doing a particular sequence of actions - one research paper uses the example of a curtsey - as an external observer, does not tell you how to do it yourself nearly as well as if your brain was acting as if you were making the same movements in sympathy. To do the same thing you need to experience it from inside.

Usually, of course, there is no visible sign of the internal processes of identification that enable us to put ourselves inside each other's actions. However, the electrical activity triggered by these specialized neurons is detectable in the muscles. It has been suggested that similar processes might be behind our ability to empathize with each other and even behind the way people sometimes flinch while watching a film if they see pain inflicted on someone else. We react as if it were happening to us. Though equipped with the potential to empathize very closely with others, how much we develop and use this potential is again affected by early childhood.

Another example of how our biology dovetails with the nature of social relations involves a hormone called oxytocin and its effects on our willingness to trust each other. People in more unequal societies are much less likely to trust each other. Trust is of course an important ingredient in any society, but it becomes essential in modern developed societies with a high degree of interdependence.

In many different species, oxytocin affects social attachment and bonding, both bonding between mother and child, and pair-bond between sexual partners. Its production is stimulated by physical contact during sexual intercourse, in childbirth and in breastfeeding where it controls milk let-down. However, in a number of mammalian species, including humans, it also has a role in social interaction more generally, affecting approach and avoidance behaviour.

The effects of oxytocin on people's willingness to trust each other was tested in an experiment involving a trust game(http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v435/n7042/full/nature03701.html). The results showed that those given oxytocin were much more likely to trust their partner. In similar experiments it was found that these effects worked both ways round: not only does receiving oxytocin make people more likely to trust, but being trusted also leads to increases in oxytocin. These effects were found even when the only evidence of trust or mistrust between people was the numerical decisions communicated through computer terminals(http://www.sas.upenn.edu/psych/PLEEP/pdfs/2004%20Zak%20Kurzban%20Matzner%20NYAS.pdf).

Other experiments have shown how the sense of co-operation stimulates the reward centres in the brain. The experience of mutual co-operation, even in the absence of face-to-face contact or real communication, leads reliably to stimulation of the reward centres. The researchers suggested that the neural reward networks serve to encourage reciprocity and mutuality while resisting the temptation to act selfishly. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12160756)

In contrast to the rewards of co-operation, experiments using brain scans have shown that the pain of social exclusion involves the same areas of the brain as are stimulated when someone experiences physical pain. Naomi Eisenberger, a psychologist as UCLA, got volunteers to play a computer bat-and-ball game with, as it seemed on the screen, two other participants. (http://www.neuro-psa.org.uk/download/rejection.pdf) The program was arranged so that after a while the other two virtual participants would start to pass the ball just between each other, so excluding the experimental subject. Brain scans showed that the areas of the brain activated by this experience of exclusion were the same areas as are activated by physical pain. In various species of monkeys these same brain areas have been found to play a role in offspring calling for, and mothers providing, maternal protection.

These connections have always been understood intuitively. When we talk about 'hurt feelings' or a 'broken heart' we recognize the connection between physical pain and the social pain caused by the breaking of close social bonds, by exclusion and ostracism. Evolutionary psychologists have shown that the tendency to ostracize people who do not co-operate, and to exclude them from the shared proceeds of co-operation, is a powerful way of maintaining high standards of co-operation. (http://www.amazon.com/Social-Outcast-Ostracism-Exclusion-Psychology/dp/184169424X) And, just as the ultimatum game showed that people were willing to punish a mean allocator by rejecting - at some cost to themselves - allocations that seemed unfair, so we appear to have a desire to exclude people who do not co-operate.

Social pain is of course central to rejection and is the opposite of the pleasures of being valued or of the sense of self-realization which can come from others' appreciation of what we have done for them. The powers of inclusion and exclusion indicate our fundamental need to social integration and are, no doubt, part of the explanation of why friendship and social involvemnet are so protective of health.

Social class and status differences almost certainly cause similar forms of social pain. Unfairness, inequality and the rejection of co-operation are all forms of exclusion. The experiments which demonstrated the performance effects of being classified as inferior (among Indian children in different castes, also African-American students) indicated the social pain related to exclusion. Part of the same picture is the social pain which sometimes triggers violence when people feel they are put down, humiliated or suffer loss of face.

For a species which thrives on friendship and enjoys co-operation and trust, which has a strong sense of fairness, which is equipped with mirror neurons allowing us to learn our way of life through a process of identification, it is clear that social structures which create relationships based on inequality, inferiority and social exclusion must inflict a great deal of social pain. In this light we can perhaps begin not only to see why more unequal societies are so socially dysfunctional but, through that, perhaps also to feel more confident that a more humane society may be a great deal more practical than the highly unequal ones in which so many of us live now."

THE SPIRIT LEVEL by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett pp. 210-213
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