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Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Tuesday, 17 May 2011 09:09 UK

Emotion 'is central to our thinking'


Much value is put on intelligence and hard work in the modern age, but is this really the route to a good and happy life?

Not according to David Brooks, a columnist from the US whose latest book, The Social Animal, explores the immense importance of the things that go on below our conscious awareness.

Some of this, he told John Humphrys, is very peculiar. The fact, for example, that people called Denis are more likely to become dentists, because we have an unthinking bias towards what is familiar.

The message from the latest research, however, is that the people who are most successful are those who are able to utilise this unconscious to read and engage with others' emotions.

"Our emotions are really central to our thinking, but we have the power to educate our emotions," he said, explaining how by listening to music, for instance, and choosing your environment, you can create new "groves" in your brain that let you think and feel in new ways - even later in life.

"One of the most important things you can do is learn how to read and attune to other people. We all work better in groups than we do as individuals.

"Even for middle-age guys, attuning to emotional signals of people around you is probably the most important thing. We are networked, we are social animals.

"We have a tendency to think of ourselves as rational individuals who are driven by economic motives, but in fact we are social individuals, driven by the need for relationship.

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