The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Deep down inside, we’re still animals. In The Social Animal, the authors are describing in detail the essence of social influence. The book is here to explain how someone develops prejudices against an ethnic or racial group; how does one person come to like another person; how we interact with others, influence them, and how we’re being influenced by them. The book is an attempt to understand human social behavior. A very good attempt I must say.

The Core Idea:

Understanding social psychology is extremely important. It’s the art of predicting how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors occur. By doing so, you have the power to make others feel better and also make them perform beyond their own know limits.

5 Key Lessons from The Social Animal:

Lesson #1: Why Understanding People Is Important?

Whether we like it or not, we are surrounded by fellow humans. Our lives depend on our daily interactions with them. For instance, when going to the local store to buy something, on our jobs, while driving around town, walking down the street. We try to look independent in front of others, but in reality, at any given moment your life may depend on the person sitting next to you.

Imagine a situation where you are in an elevator with another person, a colleague of yours. This other person is someone you don’t like, and he kind of knows it. Last month you were both working on a project and you had a fight with him about what color to use for the presentation background. With each passing floor, the tension and hatred are both increasing. Suddenly, there is a loud sound of metal being crushed. You feel it with your whole body and your arms instinctively cover your ears, which doesn’t make it more pleasant. A moment later, the metal prison that is supposed to take your asses to the top floor shakes for a moment, like it warns what will happen next – you start falling.

In the middle of your final prayer, the elevator suddenly stops, sending both of you on the floor, but unfortunately breaking your leg. The doors were slightly open, leaving enough space to escape from this nightmare. However, the vibrations going through the whole structure are clearly stating that this idle position won’t last for long. At this point, you’re no longer capable of moving on your own. Your colleague who is laying right next to the open door starts creeping through it. Just before he moves his whole body from the tiny hole, he looks back at you. Then he…

Is he going to help you? Or watch you going all the way down? Well, this is something that was probably predetermined weeks ago.

We spend so many hours trying to understand how different software or machine works. We read books, watch tutorials on the topic until we master a certain topic. Still, we never take the needed time to figure out the people we work, live with, and communicate with. What drives, motivates, disgusts them. What makes them angry, sad, or what kind of thing will put a smile on their faces. We don’t think that this is important. But it is.

Social psychology is extremely important because it helps you understand the secret needs and desires of the people around you. It can play a vital role in making the world and your personal life a better place. Take the needed time to observe the people around you. Take notes if you have to. It will be worth it.

Lesson #2: How Society Influence Us

Conformity is the change of someone’s behavior or opinion as a result of the people around. It’s basically the behavior norms that are imposed on us by society. That’s why we all pee in designated places, also known as restrooms, not on the street, or in front of others.

It’s important to understand how society influences us. It will surely help you in certain individual situations and also in your long-term life. The following 3 concepts will help you get started:

  • Compliance: Is acquiring a certain behavior in order to win a prize or avoid punishment. Or in other words, wearing a mask in front of others to hide your true emotions and ambitions. This behavior mostly occurs in institutions like school or in our work. The moment when the threat or the reward is no longer a factor, our behavior is back to normal. For example, in class we are quiet, we don’t talk and we listen to what the teacher has to say. This peaceful act guarantees us that we won’t be punished. Still, the moment the clock starts ringing and the teacher is out of the room, we no longer feel obligated to keep our cool. We can continue harassing the person sitting next to us.
  • Identification: We adopt someone else’s behavior to make him adore us. We might mimic other people’s movements, the way they talk because we admire, respect, or like them. This is very important when we’re dating. If you notice that the other person is constantly accepting your opinion, trusting your judgment, this will mean that he/she likes you. He’s identifying himself through you. This social activity is also commonly used by people who want to join a certain group. When you want to join a gang, you accept everything they do, or tell you to do, in order to join the new company. Basically, you become a follower. Not something you should be doing when the group of people you are admiring is doing stupid or illegal stuff tho’.
  • Internalization: Acquiring the beliefs of other people. This one is important. It mainly means that we incorporate the way of thinking, the beliefs, the movements, and sometimes even the words of the people with whom we communicate most often. Precisely because of the above, Hans Hansen said the following: “People inspire you, or they drain you – pick them wisely.” If you’re surrounded by people who smoke, you will most likely become a smoker. The counter-argument is also true: if you’re surrounded by people who don’t smoke, you will probably quit cigarettes. Bottom line: make sure you communicate with people who resonate with your beliefs and your understandings and avoid such that do stupid shit.

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