Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Social Intelligence

March 7th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy

The term “social intelligence” refers to an emerging science, rooted in current research in neuroscience, on the social underpinnings of the human brain. Beginning in the late 20th and with a dramatic increase in speed and precision resulting from technological improvements in the 21st century, neuroscience researchers have been validating the intuitive insights and theories of earlier writers and researchers.

In particular, neuroscience has started to describe how the brain is wired for emotion and connection between people. This post is the first in a series of posts on social intelligence and group dynamics, written as part of my studies at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential.

Daniel Goleman published the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence in 1995. Since then, neuroscience research has progressed to show that not only does the human brain have an innate capacity to manage emotions in order to realize the potential of relationships, but it also has an innate capacity—required for survival—to connect.

His latest book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Goleman, 2006), describes “social neuroscience,” the field originated in the early 1990s with initial studies one person influences the neurochemistry of another. Aided by the tools of 21st century neuroscience, scientists can now reliably study how “the brain drives social behavior and in turn how our social world influences our brain and biology” (Goleman, 2006, p. 10). Goleman calls it “the sociable brain.” The very design of the human brain makes it sociable, “inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whever we engage with another person.” In short, he wrote, “we are wired to connect” (Goleman 2006, p. 4).

Social intelligence and its basis in social neuroscience has wide ranging influences on group dynamics, given it shows how people are essentially designed to connect with one another. One of the initial influences that Goleman explores is “emotional contagion.” It’s really common sense that strong emotions in one person influence the emotions of the people around them. If someone is in a “bad mood” in an office, that “mood” will affect everyone else, especially if the person in a “bad mood” happens to be the boss or other influential person in the group.

Key to the neurodynamics of groups is what Goleman terms the “low road” and the “high road.” The “low road” refers to the part of the brain that responds quickly and largely unconsciously. This part of the brain is scanning the environment—including the emotional environment—for threats to the person.

Driven by the more primitive brain structure called the “amygdala,” the brain’s radar, the low road is “contagion central,” as Goleman puts it. Low road circuitry operates quickly, automatically, and below awareness. An emotion from one person in a group can quickly spread—or infect, depending on the point of view—throughout an entire group.

It takes “high road” awareness to counteract an initial “low road” response. The “high road” is the brain’s rational, executive center, the “prefrontal cortex,” the part of the brain that “contains our capacity for intentionality” and the give us the ability to “thin about what’s happening to us” (Goleman, 2006, p. 17). The high road works more methodically and step by step and “gives us at least some control over our inner life” (Goleman, 2006, p. 16).

This ability of people to influence one another affects how people in a group work together and the decisions they make. It can lead to greater closeness and cooperation, on the one hand, or the “madness of crowds,” on the other.  As Goleman writes:

Crowd contagion goes on even in the most minimal of groups, three people sitting face to face with each other in silence for a few minutes. In the absence of a power hierarchy, the person with the most emotionally expressive face will set the shared tone (Goleman, 2006, p. 48).

More to come. . .



February 7th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

One of the more profound experiences I have had in learning how to participate in and lead small groups is my experience joining a group of people I did not know in the role of host. The host role, as understood in etiquette, is the person who meets and greets people and makes sure that they feel comfortable. Typically, the host either knows everyone or represents the place, as in a restaurant.

As an assignment in a personal power learning laboratory at the Wright Leadership Institute, however, the host or hostess role is an assignment given to a new member of the lab, a small group for learning personal life and leadership skills. Assignments form a major part of the learning methodology at WLI and collectively make up the Assignment Way of Living, in which students do assignments in their daily life to master life and leadership skills and behaviors.

The idea behind the Host/Hostess assignment is to introduce yourself to a group. It’s a counter-intuitive assignment in some ways because most of us generally think of a host or hostess as someone who welcomes other people to a party or a restaurant and makes them feel comfortable with the place or with the other guests.

In the Host assignment, in contrast, it was up to me to make myself comfortable, to make myself part of the group. WLI assignments are rooted in the existentialist concept of authenticity. They allow an individual to discover, explore, and practice their own sense of self in relation to other people and to ultimately take responsibility for their own sense of well being. The host assignment is a perfect example.

As a host in this sense, you take responsibility for including yourself in the group. The assignment can be done quite literally, with the new group member greeting each person as they enter the group or serving refreshments before the group begins. Further, the group host may work to see that other group members include themselves in the conversation.

The assignment was quite profound for me. Like many people, I was used to having others include me in a conversation or see that I felt comfortable in a situation. I realized in doing the assignment that it was not up to others to see that I included myself or felt comfortable. It was up to me.

By extending myself to people I did not know and make sure that they felt comfortable with and knew me, I gained a greater acceptance of other people in the group–and of myself as a member of the group. This was a critical first lesson on group dynamics–that belonging to a group is a critical responsibility of the group member.

I belonged not because the other group members helped me belong but because I decided I belonged and, in effect, proved it to the other group members in my performance of the assignment by my welcoming behaviors, which, ultimately, showed them that I had made the effort to get to know them in some personal way. Therein lies a key skill in mastering groups, whether for task performance, business networking, or social interaction.

Tags: , ,

Life Purpose and Spirituality

January 28th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology
I am considering the possibility that fear and anxiety are spiritual offerings to God. It’s a suggestion from my Ideal State Action Plan today at the Men’s Leadership Development Week at the Wright Leadership Institute. I’m not sure I buy it exactly, but I like the idea of the spiritual manifesting itself in daily living.
I have been exploring spirituality from that perspective in my studies the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential. In my overview paper on Life Purpose and Spirituality course, I accept the view that a mature conception of life purpose and spirituality unites the two in daily living. The paper provides a survey of the philosophical and psychological traditions in which a person’s life purpose and spirituality are integral to daily human existence.

Traditionally, spirituality is ­the realm of the world’s religions, while purpose is often considered in terms of practical work. In more recent times, Western philosophers and psychologists have united the two, where spirituality and purpose form a unity of human daily existence.

Read the paper and let me know what you think.


January 26th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

Today I considered engagement and what it means to live an engaged life. This is a way of living and being that I have explored for years, but today at the Men’s Leadership Development Week at the Wright Leadership Institute the deeper meaning of engagement as a way of being began to become more clear.

To say “way of being” is to use language with the tones of existential philosophy, but to use it in a practical, living sense, not solely an intellectual sense. Choice is one of the primary existential principles of living, and engagement is a choice.

In existential terms, it is a choice of being or nonbeing, a choice of living or not living, at least in the sense that to be alive is to be conscious and aware of oneself and one’s internal and external states and feelings. Engagement in this sense is to be or not to be.

In daily terms, being and nonbeing is not so lofty as it may sound. It’s picking up the phone to make a cold sales call–or not. It’s telling your spouse that you’re angry and why–or not. It’s correcting an employee–or not. It’s asking someone to lunch–or not.

In any of those acts, there is a risk–the risk of rejection, or nonbeing. And with risk there is fear.

So engagement becomes facing fear and having mastery over fear. Think of when you have faced a fear and how satisfying that feeling is. That is the satisfaction of engagement.

For there is also a yearning or desire to have something more that leads to the decision to engage–or not.

Engagement is a fuller expression of self, a choice to be oneself, as opposed to a simple act. We are aiming to be fully engaged.

I have missed a lot of the subtleties here and a broader context of leadership development. More on engagement to come.

Tags: ,