The NYT David Brooks: A Fast Talkin' Social Animal

by Dave Zornow

New York, June 13 — New York Times David Brooks is an accomplished journalist and an author who has no sympathy for his publishing peers.

Brooks gave the keynote address at the Advertising Research Foundation Audience Measurement 6.0 conference (ARF AMS 6.0) on Monday, quoting frequently from his recent book “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.” He also spoke rapidly — giving anyone in the audience who was trying to take notes hand cramps and head shakes.

Fortunately, there were other social animals who came to the rescue. Here are some of the high points of his presentation, supported by twitterin’ soci-animals in the audience.

Brooks noted three key insights derived from current social science research.

  • “While the conscious mind writes the autobiography of our species, the unconscious mind does most of the work,” said Brooks.  “People named Dennis are more likely to become dentists. And people named Lawrence are more likely to become lawyers.” Brooks says it’s because we unconsciously gravitate toward things that sound familiar. Although the human brain can take in millions of pieces of information a minute, we can only handle about 40 separate items. It’s our unconscious mind that decides what to leave i and what to leave out.
  • “Emotions are at the center of our thinking,” said Brooks.  “They are the foundation of reason because they tell us what to value.” Brooks posited that emotions aren’t separate from reason but that they are central to organizing the way we think.
  • Riffing on the “man is not an island theme,” Brooks says that humans are social animals. “We are not primarily self contained individuals,” he says. Humans are social — not rational — and the sum of what we are emerges out of the relationships we have with others.

Brooks also described a number of traits which set us apart which help define our inner social animal.

  • Mindsight: The ability to look into other peoples eyes and download what they have to offer. “Babies come with the ability to mimic people around them,” said Brooks. “Mimicry is an important social skill.” Brooks cited work from the University of Minnesota where researchers were able to predict which children were likely to graduate from high school based on their ability to have a good two way conversation with their mother when they were 18 months of age.
  • Equipoise: The ability to read the biases and failures in your own mind.
  • Medes: “What we might call street smarts, shows a sensitivity to the physical environment, the ability to pick out patterns in an environment.” When someone says I get the gist of something, they are displaying medes. Soldiers in Iraq can look down a street and tell you there’s an IED somewhere. They don’t know how they know — they just do.
  • Brooks said creativity comes from blending two different ideas together.  Picasso combining the concept of Western art and the concept African masks is one example.
  • Limerence actually isn’t an ability, but a word that describes a person’s drive and a motivation. “The conscious mind hungers for success and prestige,” said Brooks. “The unconscious mind hungers for moments of transcendence and we are lost in a challenge or a task,”says Brooks.

And what did the masses “tw-ink” of Brooks comments in the Twitterverse? Here’s a sampling:

  • #DavidBrooks: “We’re in the middle of a cognitive revolution”. — J.T. Compeau
  • Via David Brooks @nytimes: Tough decision? Flip coin. Then act not on coin side up, but yr emotional reaction — Neil Glassman
  • 19% of Americans think they are in the top 1% of earners. David Brooks at #ARFAM6. Annnd that’s why we always need scientific measurement! — David Coletti
  • david brooks emotion is the foundation of reason and unconscious mind makes most decisions — The ARF
  • David Brooks – emotion is the foundation of reason. Tells us what we value — fettersac
  • Fascinating speech by #DavidBrooks. “Blending” of ideas is the “core of creativity,” leads to innovation. — J.T. Compeau
  • Why tax breaks for the rich so popular. RT @ddcoletti: 19% of Americans think they are in the top 1% of earners.  — josh chasin
  • RT @JTCompeau: “Emergent systems” are not “clocks”, “they need to be analyzed holistically” – DavidBrooks — Neil Glassman
  • Via David Brooks @nytimes: Things on which we focus seem more important than are because we’re focusing on them — Neil Glassman
  • David Brooks: Kids in homes where they develop strategies for impulse control do better in school. Doesn’t auger well 4 my kid. — josh chasin
  • Yes! RT @fettersac David Brooks – emotion is the foundation of reason. Tells us what we value — Alan Edgett

See also:

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