Monday, March 14, 2011

Communities and Cooperation: Realities of the Human Brain

by Julia Buckley

In this delightful video from the show THE HUMAN SPARK, Alan Alda chats with scientists who study a human being's ability to form communities and to seek out those who will be cooperative.

As the video suggests, humans tend to have groups of about 150 people whom they actually know and who have some part in their immediate or extended community. (I suppose Facebook and other online connections complicate this, but I think for the purposes of the study, these are people one has met and interacted with).

So who makes up our individual communities, and why do we choose them? Obviously our families would be the starting points, but who else gets into that special list, and how often does the list change? For example, my son's community contains many school mates, but how many of those will remain on his permanent list? It seems that the community would be subject to endless flux.

On the other hand, some members would be permanently on the list.

More interesting to me, though, is that mysterious element that makes a person not right for one person's community, but very right for another's. What innate ability to we possess to winnow out the people that don't belong in our lives? How are we able to tell, sometimes after a very limited meeting, that someone is simply not eligible for our list?

At one point this would simply have been called the process of "making friends." But just as the scientists are able to discern the complicated ways that chimpanzees claim or reject their community members, so can they apply those ideas to the human world and realize that we act rather predictably in these situations.

Aside from your families, what are some of the groups that make up your community?


Sandra Parshall said...

I loved that series Alda hosted. Very informative.

The people who fascinate me are those who seem to have been born into the wrong community. The misfits. Their families should be the heart of their personal communities, but they don't actually begin to build those communities until they get away from home base. I would love to see a psychological/sociological study of the born misfits. A lot of us write about such people, but I don't think we truly understand them.

Julia Buckley said...

Great point. And that happens in the animal world, as well.

And I do think that misfits fascinate writers and readers alike.

Diane said...

As a miltary brat, I moved a lot in my childhood/youth. Brats learn to make friends quickly, since you - or they - could move on (physically) anywhere from 1 yr to 5 yrs down the road. Though you could meet up again at another base, or end up with a friend that was with one at one place, you at another. But over the years I have found that the friends I have stayed in touch with were the ones from those days - fellow brats. Especially those from 8th-9th grades at Madrid High School (Torrejon AFB, Madrid, Spain). FYI, that was 1959-1961. Maybe it's because we shared backgrounds few civilians can understand, let alone appreciate.

Julia Buckley said...

That's interesting, because every military base is its own sort of community, and you were a part of several. Great example!