Social Intelligence, Emotions and Brain Training

Prof. John Ratey is asso­ciate clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at Har­vard Med­ical School. He is co-author of Dri­ven to Dis­trac­tion, and A User’s Guide to the Brain: Per­cep­tion, Atten­tion, and the Four The­aters of the Brain -one of the best intro­duc­tions to user-friend­ly brain research I have ever found. He is also the first sci­en­tist I am aware of who advo­cat­ed, in a pop­u­lar book, for a sci­ence-based “brain gym” to train a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive skills/ men­tal muscles.

Thanks to the Mind­Fields blog, we found an old inter­view with him, by Denise Winn, edi­tor of the Human Givens Jour­nal.

A few quotes from the great inter­view-worth read­ing entirely.

First, about Social Intel­li­gence, the top­ic that Car­o­line was writ­ing about last week:

JR (John Ratey): “Neu­rol­o­gists and neu­ro­sci­en­tists have shown, for instance, that dam­age to the cor­tex can affect our abil­i­ty to be empath­ic, that prob­lems in the cere­bel­lum can cause social inept­ness and that deficits in the right hemi­sphere can make it hard to under­stand life’s over­all pic­ture. I think of these and oth­er parts as mak­ing up the social brain.”…

DW (Denise Winn): “And now it is thought that this cere­bel­lar deficit may explain some of the behav­iours of autism?”

JR: “Yes, that’s where this work real­ly start­ed. Being off bal­ance, not being able to do the social dance is a big ele­ment in autism. Neu­rol­o­gist Eric Courch­esne has found that while a nor­mal baby can shift atten­tion from a par­en­t’s nose to an eye or to the mouth in a frac­tion of a sec­ond, an autis­tic baby may need as many as five to six sec­onds to make these shifts. (…) a lot of inter­est­ing work has been done, main­ly by the dis­tin­guished neu­rol­o­gist Anto­nio Dama­sio but also oth­ers, look­ing at this key area. The ven­tro­me­di­al cor­tex is a sec­tion of the frontal lobes and it is respon­si­ble for the emo­tion that colours our deci­sion mak­ing process­es, espe­cial­ly in the per­son­al-social realm.

Con­trary to the pop­u­lar notion that deci­sion mak­ing requires a cool head, it is feel­ings that point us in the right direc­tion, and help us make moral, per­son­al, pre­dic­tive and plan­ning decisions.”

Now, on the pow­er of “brain train­ing” and Brain Fit­ness Pro­grams to devel­op new neu­ronal path­ways and habits:

DW: “But many of the sort of things we’ve been dis­cussing can be altered by train­ing or prac­tice, I think you say.”…

JR: “Okay, well, let’s go to an extreme. In some of the autism cen­tres in the Unit­ed States, one of the big train­ing meth­ods is to devel­op social prac­tice ses­sions ear­ly on. The kids are taught not just to ask, “How are you?” in a con­tact with some­one they know, but to ask a sec­ond ques­tion, which focus­es on remem­ber­ing some­thing about that per­son and ask­ing some­thing per­son­al like, “How did it go for you yes­ter­day, at the test?” or what­ev­er. That can be done through train­ing. A study showed that just doing that real­ly increased chil­dren’s socialisation.

It is the same thing with my engi­neers or my com­put­er peo­ple. It is enor­mous­ly help­ful just get­ting them to mod­i­fy the way they talk on the phone or to realise that, when they meet peo­ple, they don’t have to just talk and talk and talk, which some of them do and which then chas­es every­body away. Get­ting focused sole­ly on answer­ing anoth­er per­son­’s ques­tion about them­selves, instead of ask­ing their own ques­tions, ruins a lot of social inter­ac­tions. Just by chang­ing the script, or rather, by giv­ing them a script, one can see a big change.”

Keep read­ing the inter­view.

More on social intelligence:

- Social Intel­li­gence and Mir­ror Neurons
Social Intel­li­gence and the Frontal Lobes

 And on Anto­nio Dama­sio’s work on Emo­tions and Decision-Making



  1. eleanor on October 24, 2006 at 3:15

    Thank you for your men­tion of our blog in this post!

  2. Alvaro on October 24, 2006 at 10:29

    Thank you for let­ting us find that inter­view. And for your comments!

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

Top Articles on Brain Health and Neuroplasticity

Top 10 Brain Teasers and Illusions


Subscribe to our e-newsletter

* indicates required

Got the book?