New York Times conservative Op-ed Columnist David Brooks has written on just about everything — politics, war, class and beyond. In his new book, he is revealing the power of our unconscious and its role in our development.
In his book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, David Brooks suggests that we should accept the role the unconscious part of our mind plays in our lives, rather than believing so strongly in the power of our choices. He uses various studies to argue that people actually learn best from those they love and admire, not from their decision to apply themselves.
We discussed this concept with Amanda Woodward, a psychology professor who specializes in cognitive development at the University of Chicago. Here’s what she had to say:
Is this concept of learning from those we love new? Has your research with cognitive development related to this idea?
“Researchers have understood for a long time—nearly a century—the importance of early emotional bonds in supporting many aspects of a child’s development, including his or her ability to explore the world and learn. Early in life, a significant proportion of children’s learning is supported by the child’s social partners—parents, caregivers, teachers.
“Language, culture, social norms, math, science or writing could not be learned without other people. So, children end up learning a great deal of important stuff from the people who are nearest and probably dearest to them. These are the people they are with the most, and so they have the most opportunities to learn from them.
“I am not sure, however, whether degree of “loving” predicts how well a child will learn from another person. Children are enormously good at pulling information out of the environment and they can learn from people they know less well. On the other hand, if someone is a great source of insight, like great teachers are, then we may come to love them more.
My own research has highlighted the role of active engagement and social support in children’s learning, but I have not investigated whether the emotional bond between child and social partner makes a difference.”
David Brooks uses a study done at the University of Minnesota where researchers were able to use the attachment patterns of children at age 42 months to predict with 77 percent accuracy who would graduate from high school. Is this indicative of the role of emotion and the unconscious in our success? How related are our social interactions and our success?
“These studies are evidence for the strong and wide-ranging effects of early emotional experience on different kinds of developmental outcomes. These processes would not depend on conscious awareness.”
To see a 5-minute animated summary of David Brooks’ book, click here.