The Psychology of Social Good

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Radhe Patel is a 2014 UNA-USA Social Good Summit Blogger Fellow. View this post on her blog. 

The second day of the Social Good Summit was filled with a diverse variety of content and conversations, kicked off by journalist Sheryl WuDunn and husband Nicholas Kristof, authors of Half the Sky and new book A Path Appears. They discussed one of the focuses in their new book, the fallacy of childhood resilience. Though it’s true that kids can heal quicker than adults in many cases, there’s a common thought that this translates into their mental development. As WuDunn put it, “if they have a tough beginning education-wise,” referring to the lack of schooling many young children in developing countries get, “they’ll go to school later in life and compensate.” The problem is that this is simply not true, as our capacity to take in information is accelerated between the ages of 1-5. The issue is that on average, many governments still put the majority of funding on later education. We need a norms shift to flip this model.

WuDunn and Kristof were optimistic about the possibility of this change, and discussed the power of altruism to make social movements flourish through action and donation. According WuDunn, studies show “when donating to a cause, half the people feel more intense pleasure when they give than when they receive,” and that this happiness also corresponds to the same part of the brain that gives us pleasure from candy and other desirable things.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight and face behind the viral Ted Talk from a few years ago (http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight), built on this point later that day in her speech on ‘The Neuro-Tech Network of Humanity.’ She discussed the tendency of our left brain to perceive ourselves and everything around us as energy. This makes us collaborative and non-confrontational, because “why would we want to hurt that which is ourselves?” She urged us to find that foundational element of ourselves once more, and appeal to it in others to develop a network founded on our common humanity.

This is great news for advocates and those who had lost hope in our generation’s ability for a meaningful #2030NOW- we can use our natural tendency as human beings to reach out to people via the social networks we’ve commanded for our causes, and build momentum for donations, paradigm-shifts, and action. 

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