Dr. Arthur Aron, a psychologist and researcher at State University of New York–Stony Brook, with colleagues, published an article about a series of 36 questions that he says can increase people’s emotional connection (Aron et al., 1997). The questions are in three parts of twelve questions each. At each level, there is a deepening of the content of the questions. For example, at the first level, there are items like, “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” and “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?” Not that the questions are superficial small talk. In set one, an item asks, “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” But by the time in interlocutors get to set three, they are talking about things like, “Complete this sentence: ‘I wish I had someone with whom I could share…’” and “When did you last cry in front of another person?” Aron and colleagues describe the deepening of topics as “escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure, and intimacy-associated behaviors” (p. 364).
We know that people have social needs but, after many years in the classroom, I find I’m only just beginning to understand the importance of social brain research to teaching and learning. In this article, I’ll discuss how social brain research is relevant to English language teaching. It’s relevant to all areas of education, of course, but my focus will be on classes in which speaking skills are taught.
Psychologists have found that our brains spend a lot of time engaged in mental processes involved in perceiving and interpreting social interactions. We even have a network in our brain that is devoted to watching others and determining their thoughts, moods, and intentions, a network that is active every moment it can be, a kind of default (Lieberman, 2013).It seems that the brain is built to “thrive…on interaction with others” (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2011, p. 452).