Juniors and seniors at Rye Neck High School recently welcomed Dr. Michael Platt, a professor of interdisciplinary knowledge at the University of Pennsylvania, as a special guest speaker at their school. During his college-level lecture, “The Biology of Friendship,” Dr. Platt discussed the brain’s functions and one’s ability to increase social connections and friendships.

Through years of research, Dr. Platt said that he has found that one’s perceptions are centered in the neurons and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetic makeup, outside social relationships and increased social interaction. He told the students that although one’s ability to form social connections rests partly upon genetics, chemical and hormonal makeup, people could improve, build and strengthen their brain neurology simply by using it in social settings. His studies have also shown that reading novels, traveling and mingling with different people can increase one’s perspective on the world and understanding for the way others think, as well as build empathy. 

Dr. Platt encouraged the students to interact with other people, listen to them closely, make eye contact, work in teams and reduce power distinctions within a group, all of which strengthen the neurological network that makes our social connections stronger.

Following the lecture, the students – who had studied some of Dr. Platt’s research papers prior to his visit – had the opportunity to share their ideas, make contributions and ask him questions. 

Dr. Platt’s visit was arranged and sponsored by the Rye Neck PTSA High School/Middle School STEAM Committee, chaired by Susan Banker. 

“His personal charisma and acute intelligence, together with an easy style of delivery, made him a most approachable and attractive model for social interaction, and a speaker of impact for Rye Neck PTSA’s STEAM enrichment program,” Banker said. “We are asking students to go beyond their departmentalized knowledge and strive for ‘out of the box’ innovative thinking, obtainable in this case through Dr. Platt’s studies in the interrelationship of biophysics, psychology and sociology, and economics.”