Social Neuroscience: How a Multidisciplinary Field Is Uncovering the Biology of Human Interactions

Not long ago, scientists thought that social factors were relatively unimportant to the basic structure and function of the brain and biology because of their relatively recent emergence in species. The social brain hypothesis, however, posits that the social complexities of primate species contributed to the rapid increase in neocortical connectivity and intelligence. Deducing better ways to find food, to avoid perils, and to navigate territories has adaptive value for large mammals, but the complexities of these ecological demands are no match for the complexities of social living. Communal living requires learning by social observation; recognizing the shifting status of friends and foes; anticipating and coordinating efforts among individuals; using language to communicate, to reason, to teach, and to deceive others; orchestrating relationships; navigating complex social hierarchies, social norms, and cultural developments; subjugating self-interests for the interests of the pair bond or social group in exchange for the possibility of long-term benefits; recruiting support to sanction individuals who violate group norms; and accomplishing all these tasks across time frames that draw on lessons learned from the distant past to mental simulations of multiple possible futures. Consistent with this hypothesis, researchers found a composite index of sociality in troops of baboons to be highly correlated with infant survival, and they have shown through cross-species comparisons that the evolution of large and metabolically expensive brains is more closely associated with social complexity than ecological complexity.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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