I, Mammal

Recommended Reading

Here are some highly readable books about the mammal brain and the social dynamics it motivates.  I winnowed down to the most engaging writing and gave each book a unique “Best in category ” award to highlight  my reasons for including it. For example:  Best introduction to social dominance in primates,  Best description of how we blend conscious and automatic thought,    Best description of sausage being made,  Best description of monkey business.    Read more


What makes a mammal happy?   (pdf  flyer)


A Mammal at the Movies

The mammal brain’s interest in status is easy to see on the big screen. Your mammal brain runs free while you’re watching a movie because you’re not burdened with the real-life need to act. Your mirror neurons respond to the characters’ actions so you understand more than just their words. Their actions are often focused on status even if their words suggest otherwise. This chapter describes fifteen great mammalian moments in the movies €“ moments when a character’s mammalian neurochemistry exerts its curious pull toward status seeking. So start buttering the popcorn and invite friends to watch the mammal brain in action in these movies. Read the reviews  here

The movies explored here are not about greed or evil. They’re about people you would like to know as they struggle with their automatic appetite for status. (I made an exception for a Mafia movie because it revolves around my old neighborhood.)

  • Mean Girls (2004)
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)
  • Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  • What Makes Sammy Run? (1959)
  • Caterina in the Big City [Caterina Va in Citta] (2005)
  • Pride and Prejudice (2005)
  • The Last Emperor ( 1987)
  • The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)
  • The Good Earth (1937)
  • Young Victoria (2009)
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • The Bicycle Thief (1948)
  • Ninotchka / Silk Stockings (1939 / 1957)
  • Mrs. Brown (1997)
  • Creation: How Darwin Saw the World & Changed It Forever (2009)

Every minute of every movie is a mammalian moment, in truth. But the scenes described below show people confronting the social dominance concerns that creep into their lives. We will not focus on cruel dominators and reproductive maniacs, or craven status seekers getting their comeuppance. We will focus on honorable people trying to get happy chemicals from their brains in whatever way works. We will see how the mammal brain rewards whatever promotes reproductive success in the state of nature.

Movies often revolve around status triumphs. Watching these triumphs helps develop neural connections that respond to our real-life successes. Movies help people stimulate that triumphant feeling without taking self-destructive risks.

Of course, movies are not real human stories; they are the screenwriters’ and investors’ idea of what audiences will buy. But screenwriters, investors and audiences are all mammals. Movies are made by mammals and for mammals. They sell by appealing to the mammal brain, despite their many biases.

All of the movies covered here are available from Netflix.com. Spoiler alert: plot twists and endings are revealed as necessary to explain the mammalian moments. This will not “spoil ”   the movie, however, because watching with an eye for the mammal brain’s familiar footprints is more fun.

Outstanding nature documentaries are also available on Netflix. The recent Life series has remarkable up-close photography   of primate and mammalian social interactions. Attenborough’s The Life of Mammals and Planet Earth are also noteworthy, especially the primate segments.

Human evolution is the subject of many excellent documentaries, including these Netflix offerings: Ape to Man, Walking with Cavemen, and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (episode 4 on australopithecines, our “missing link ” ancestor).

"You can manage your happy brain chemicals when you know
how they work
in the state of nature."
--Loretta Breuning, PhD

VIDEO : You Have Power Over Your Happy Brain Chemicals!


A fast, fun intro to your brain chemicals and a concrete plan to wire in a new happy habit! 

Watch Now