Archive for the ‘Social behavior’ Category
The potential for cognitive neuroscience to shed light on social behaviour is increasingly being acknowledged and is set to become an important new approach in the field of psychology. Standing at the vanguard of this development, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Social Behaviour provides a state-of-the-art contribution to a subject still in its infancy. Divided into three parts, the book presents an overview of research into neural substrates of social interactions, the cognitive neuroscience of social cognition and human disorders of social behaviour and cognition.
Social Cognitive Neuroscience is the study of the neural mechanisms of social cognition and social interactions in humans and animals. It is also concerned with deficits of socio-cognitive processes in humans, particularly those which have a dedicated neural basis, such as autism, schizophrenia, sociopathy, and depression. This branch of cognitive neuroscience is directed towards understanding complex aspects of social behaviour, such as mentalizing (understanding another’s mental states), empathy, attractiveness, self-awareness, moral reasoning, intentionality, and imitation.
Her target is Lasioglossum albipes, an unusual species of the so-called sweat bee that is capable of two very different lifestyles. Depending on where and to whom they’re born, these bees live either largely alone, raising their own young, or as part of a commune, where tasks such as caring for the young and foraging for food are divvied up and all members reap the rewards. Although honeybees are legendary for their complex cooperative societies, the vast majority of bee species are solitary creatures. Few can adopt either lifestyle, living alone or as part of a community as circumstances dictate. These species are particularly interesting because they represent an intermediate step in the progression from a solitary existence to a social one. “How did social insects evolve from solitary ancestors?” said Sandra Rehan, a biologist at the University of New Hampshire who studies a different bee with similar behavioral flexibility.
Human beings are an incredibly social species and along with eusocial insects engage in the largest cooperative living groups in the planet’s history. Twin and family studies suggest that uniquely human characteristics such as empathy, altruism, sense of equity, love, trust, music, economic behavior, and even politics are partially hardwired. The leap from twin studies to identifying specific genes engaging the social brain has occurred in the past decade, aided by deep insights accumulated about social behavior in lower mammals. Remarkably, genes such as the arginine vasopressin receptor and the oxytocin receptor contribute to social behavior in a broad range of species from voles to man. Other polymorphic genes constituting the ‘‘usual suspects’’—i.e., those encoding for dopamine reward pathways, serotonergic emotional regulation, or sex hormones—further enable elaborate social behaviors.
The past 2 decades have seen remarkable progress in unraveling the complexities of the neurogenetic architecture of the human social brain. Nevertheless, much remains to be learned, especially about how our species has created a global society composed of billions of interacting individuals whose basic brain structure has remained mostly unchanged for the past 50,000 years. This global society is indeed a remarkable achievement for an organ weighing only 1350 g, and attests to its remarkable plasticity in processing a continuous stream of environmental information using neuroanatomical and neurogenetic mechanisms laid down over millions of years of hominid evolution.
Prosocial behavior is a central feature of human life and a major focus of research across the natural and social sciences. Most theoretical models of prosociality share a common assumption: Humans are instinctively selfish, and prosocial behavior requires exerting reflective control over these basic instincts. However, findings from several scientific disciplines have recently contradicted this view. Rather than requiring control over instinctive selfishness, prosocial behavior appears to stem from processes that are intuitive, reflexive, and even automatic. These observations suggest that our understanding of prosociality should be revised to include the possibility that, in many cases, prosocial behavior—instead of requiring active control over our impulses—represents an impulse of its own.
Enactive approaches foreground the role of interpersonal interaction in explanations of social understanding. This motivates, in combination with a recent interest in neuroscientific studies involving actual interactions, the question of how interactive processes relate to neural mechanisms involved in social understanding. We introduce the Interactive Brain Hypothesis (IBH) in order to help map the spectrum of possible relations between social interaction and neural processes. The hypothesis states that interactive experience and skills play enabling roles in both the development and current function of social brain mechanisms, even in cases where social understanding happens in the absence of immediate interaction. We examine the plausibility of this hypothesis against developmental and neurobiological evidence and contrast it with the widespread assumption that mindreading is crucial to all social cognition. We describe the elements of social interaction that bear most directly on this hypothesis and discuss the empirical possibilities open to social neuroscience. We propose that the link between coordination dynamics and social understanding can be best grasped by studying transitions between states of coordination. These transitions form part of the self-organization of interaction processes that characterize the dynamics of social engagement. The patterns and synergies of this self-organization help explain how individuals understand each other. Various possibilities for role-taking emerge during interaction, determining a spectrum of participation. This view contrasts sharply with the observational stance that has guided research in social neuroscience until recently. We also introduce the concept of readiness to interact to describe the practices and dispositions that are summoned in situations of social significance (even if not interactive). This latter idea links interactive factors to more classical observational scenarios.
The complexities of the brain and nervous system make neuroscience an inherently interdisciplinary pursuit, one that comprises disparate basic, clinical, and applied disciplines. Behavioral neuroscientists approach the brain and nervous system as instruments of sensation and response; cognitive neuroscientists view the same systems as a solitary computer with a focus on representations and processes.
The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience marks the emergence of a third broad perspective in this field. Social neuroscience emphasizes the functions that emerge through the coaction and interaction of conspecifics, the neural mechanisms that underlie these functions, and the commonality and differences across social species and superorganismal structures.
With an emphasis on the neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms underlying social behavior, social neuroscience places emphasis on the associations and influences between social and biological levels of organization. This complex interdisciplinary perspective demands theoretical, methodological, statistical, and inferential rigor to effectively integrate basic, clinical, and applied perspectives on the nervous system and brain.
New study by scientists at the University of Oxford, England, challenges some common beliefs regarding social behavior. From a new survey of social structure across the family tree of 217 primate species, they reached the conclusion that genetics may play a bigger part in shaping sociality than environment. The findings also rebut widespread ideas about social behavior, for example theories about the way complex societies are formed or the social brain hypothesis – that intelligence and brain volume increase with group size.
This led to the conclusion that social structure is determined by inherited genes and not ecology. The scientists also suggest that sociality might have started 52 million years ago, and that it would be the result of primates shifting their activity from nighttime to daytime. In doing so, they had to work in groups in order to be safe. This fact questions the social brain hypothesis, as it denies a steady progression from small groups to large ones.
Democracy is ingrained in our DNA, because it has helped us to survive. We have lived for most of our evolutionary history in small bands, and this has shaped our psychology today. Upstarts would occasionally try and dominate others — dominance is part of our primate heritage — but our ancestors had a number of effective means to keep these irritants under control. Traditional societies still use these techniques – we call them STOPS or strategies to overcome the powerful — with much success. The most effective weapon that a group can deploy is to desertion, by simply leaving a dominating leader behind.
Not only do we naturally organize ourselves into democracies but we are a social species – and disaffection is contagious.
Social neuroscience is a rapidly growing discipline that examines the relationship between the brain and social behavior. The “social brain hypothesis” posits that, over evolutionary time, living in large, social groups favored the physical growth of brain regions important for social behavior. In non-human primates, some evidence indicates that the size of the amygdala is related to social behavior. Little is known, however, about this relationship in humans. A provocative new study finds that the volume of a key component of the social brain, the amygdala, is directly related to the size and complexity of social networks in adult humans.