The Social Animal

Heard while driving home yesterday: NPR interview about the  new book The Social Animal which offers an interesting angle on human behavior that differs from policymaker assumptions. Perhaps leading to many of the major policy failures this world has seen lately. The author believes these policy failures are due to an overly simplistic view of human nature by the policymakers.

Key points from the NPR story:

  • Perhaps other people besides policymakers — such as scientists, philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists — were the ones who had real insight on how people thrive.
  • In Washington, D.C. … decisions are made based on the assumption that people are cold, rationalistic individuals who respond to incentives.
  • But emotion is more important than reason … most of our thinking happens below the level of awareness.
  • In situations like the one in Egypt, signals transferred from person to person affected the mood and emotions of the entire country. (My note: contrast with, how would an economist describe the situation and human behavior?)

Funny point:

  • The author David Brooks says, “”The reality of education is that people learn from people they love. But if you mention the word love at a congressional hearing, they look at you like you’re Oprah.”

I have not read the book yet. Just reporting. As I live with an economist, I’m aware there certainly are different viewpoints about why people do what they do, perhaps due to how our professional trainings shape how we see the world.

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