On the third day of Christmas

Posted by on Dec 26, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments


…you gets other people.

One of the oddities about the holiday season is the amount of time we spend in the company of folk that we’d otherwise avoid (family weddings and funerals excepted). It’s not that we’re not fond of them; nor that we can’t spend and hour or two in their company (that’s easy) but after a little too much to eat & drink and not quite enough sleep for several nights on the trot, they can begin to get to you and Christmas can – no, will always – end in tears/recriminations.

By the evening of December 26th it can seem that you’d quite happily spend the first few months of the New Year as a hermit; not speaking to a soul (particularly “relies”) ’til May seems like a great New Year Resolution.

And the point about Christmas – like so much else in our lives – is other people. It’s a chance for us to show off the amazing social skills that enable us to live out our species destiny as the Super Social Ape.

It seems we are made for a very Social Life: I’ve posted about mirror neurons and how they seem to help us interact so successfully. Also about the way our minds seem to be configured (Kahnemann’s lazy mind hypothesis) to create more computing power for the real job of human lives: other people.

Well today’s free gift (better than than nail file from lunchtime’s Christmas cracker) is (hat-tip to Alex) Robin Dunbar‘s latest thoughts on how our brains are shaped by the size and nature of the groups in which our little species habitually lives.

Til now his argument has consistently been that there is a strict correlation between brain size (neocortex to body ratio) and grooming group size in all primates. But now it seems that it’s not just group size that has shaped how our brains have grown; it’s the deeper nature of the greater number of social relationships each of us has that has driven the growth of our brain size.

“…the nature of primate sociality seems to be qual-
itatively different from that found in most other
mammals and birds. The reason is that the
everyday relationships of anthropoid primates
involve a form of “bondedness” that is only found
elsewhere in reproductive pairbonds.
…bondedness is precisely what
primate sociality is all about”

Download the Science piece by all means, but don’t read it tonight. Remember the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life: Christmas is about other people – not about presents or money. The people you know, for good or for ill are the greatest source of happiness in anyone’s world so enjoy them while you can, whether or not they make it easy!

Download Dunbar_etal_2007.pdf