Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explanations of Social Behavior

Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explanations of Social Behavior
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Sanbook 2. Neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have collaborated for more than a decade with the common goal of understanding how the mind works. These collaborations have helped unravel puzzles of the mind, including aspects of perception, imagery, attention, and memory.

Many aspects of the mind, however, require a more comprehensive approach to reveal the mystery of mind-brain connections. Attraction, altruism, speech recognition, affiliation, attachment, attitudes, identification, kin recognition, cooperation, competition, empathy, sexuality, communication, dominance, persuasion, obedience, morality, contagion, nurturance, violence, and person memory are just a few.

It is likely that social psychology has always had a more cognitive than general psychology approach, as it traditionally discussed internal mental states such as beliefs and desires when mainstream psychology was dominated by behaviorism. One notable theory of social cognition is social schema theory, although it is not the basis of all social cognition studies for example, see attribution theory.

Social schema theory builds on and uses terminology from schema theory in cognitive psychology, which describes how ideas or " concepts " are represented in the brain and how they are categorized. According to this view, when we see or think of a concept a mental representation or schema is "activated" bringing to mind other information which is linked to the original concept by association.

This activation often happens unconsciously. As a result of activating such schemas, judgements are formed which go beyond the information actually available, since many of the associations the schema evokes extend outside the given information. This may influence social cognition and behaviour regardless of whether these judgements are accurate or not.

For example, if an individual is introduced as a teacher, then a "teacher schema" may be activated. Subsequently, we might associate this person with wisdom or authority, or past experiences of teachers that we remember and consider important. When a schema is more accessible it can be more quickly activated and used in a particular situation.


Two cognitive processes that increase accessibility of schemas are salience and priming. Salience is the degree to which a particular social object stands out relative to other social objects in a situation.

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The higher the salience of an object the more likely that schemas for that object will be made accessible. For example, if there is one female in a group of seven males, female gender schemas may be more accessible and influence the group's thinking and behavior toward the female group member. For example, watching a scary movie late at night might increase the accessibility of frightening schemas, increasing the likelihood that a person will perceive shadows and background noises as potential threats. Social cognition researchers are interested in how new information is integrated into pre-established schemas, especially when the information contrasts with the existing schema.

Pre-established schemas tend to guide attention to new information, as people selectively attend to information that is consistent with the schema and ignore information that is inconsistent. This is referred to as a confirmation bias. Sometimes inconsistent information is sub-categorized and stored away as a special case, leaving the original schema intact without any alterations. This is referred to as subtyping. Social cognition researchers are also interested in the regulation of activated schemas. It is believed that the situational activation of schemas is automatic, meaning that it is outside individual conscious control. Social psychologists have become increasingly interested in the influence of culture on social cognition. For example, one study interviewed a Scottish settler and a Bantu herdsman from Swaziland and compared their schemas about cattle.

The Bantu herdsmen was able to distinguish his cattle from dozens of others, while the Scottish settler was not. Cultural influences have been found to shape some of the basic ways in which people automatically perceive and think about their environment. Nisbett suggested that cultural differences in social cognition may stem from the various philosophical traditions of the East i.

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Confucianism and Buddhism versus the Greek philosophical traditions i. One study found that scenes from Japanese cities were 'busier' than those in the US as they contain more objects which compete for attention.

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In this study, the Eastern holistic thinking style and focus on the overall context was attributed to the busier nature of the Japanese physical environment. Early interest in the relationship between brain function and social cognition includes the case of Phineas Gage , whose behaviour was reported to have changed after an accident damaged one or both of his frontal lobes. More recent neuropsychological studies have shown that brain injuries disrupt social cognitive processes.

For example, damage to the frontal lobes can affect emotional responses to social stimuli [20] [21] [22] and performance on theory of mind tasks. People with psychological disorders such as autism , [3] [25] psychosis , [4] [26] mood disorder , [27] Williams syndrome , antisocial personality disorder , [5] Fragile X and Turner's syndrome [28] show differences in social behavior compared to their unaffected peers. Parents with posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD show disturbances in at least one aspect of social cognition: namely, joint attention with their young children only after a laboratory-induced relational stressor as compared to healthy parents without PTSD.

The development of social cognitive processes in infants and children has also been researched extensively see developmental psychology. For example, it has been suggested that some aspects of psychological processes that promote social behavior such as facial recognition may be innate.

Consistent with this, very young babies recognize and selectively respond to social stimuli such as the voice, face and scent of their mother. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the academic journal, see Social Cognition journal. Basic types. Applied psychology. See also: Social cognitive neuroscience. Behavioral sink Cognitive dissonance Distributed cognition Empathy Joint attention Neurodevelopmental framework for learning Observational learning Online participation Paranoid social cognition Situated cognition Social cognitive theory social cognitive theory of morality Social emotion Social intelligence Social neuroscience.

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The integration of neural and psychophysiological level analyses into the study of moral development is more recent. This is an excellent introduction to cutting-edge research in what is undoubtedly going to be the dominant theme in 21st-century neuroscience. Explore Plus. Lessenich, S. The relationship between different facets of empathy, pain perception and compassion fatigue among physicians.

BioMed Research International. Social Cognition: Development, Neuroscience and Autism. February Frontiers in Psychiatry. Psychopathy, emotion and the brain.