Social Neuroscience

Neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have collaborated for more than a decade with the common goal of understanding how the mind works. The focus of this work has been relatively restricted, however, as more complex aspects of the mind and behavior that involve conspecifics and their products (e.g., norms, culture) have fallen outside of the purview of cognitive neuroscience. Social neuroscience emerged in the early 1990s to address these kinds of questions at the information-processing, neural, and computational levels of analysis (Cacioppo & Berntson, 1992).

The notion of a social neuroscience is not as oxymoronic as it might first seem. Evolutionary forces operating over thousands of years have sculpted the human genome to be sensitive to and succoring of relationships with others. Affiliation and nurturant social relationships, for instance, are essential for physical and psychological well-being across the lifespan (Cacioppo, Berntson, Sheridan, & Mc-Clintock, 2000). Disruptions of social connections, whether through ridicule, separation, divorce, or bereavement, are among the most stressful events that people endure (Gardner, Gabriel, & Diekman, 2000), and social isolation is as large a risk factor for broad-based morbidity and mortality as are high blood pressure, obesity, and sedentary lifestyles even after statistically controlling for known biological risk factors, social status, and baseline measures of health (House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988). The case of Phineas Gage in the late 1800s vividly established the importance of the frontal cortex for orchestrating normal social discourse (MacMillan, 1999), and various other cortical and subcortical nuclei involved in social cognition have now been identified (Adolphs, 1999).

Social neuroscience has emerged as a pullulating scientific perspective for several additional reasons. Theoretical insights into the mechanisms underlying social processes, as well as ways of testing otherwise conflicting theoretical accounts of social behavior, have come from theory and research in the neurosciences (Berntson, Boysen, & Cacioppo, 1993; Clark & Squire, 1998). Reciprocally, the study of social processes, including work on social factors as moderators of various specific mechanisms, has challenged exist ing theories in the neurosciences, resulting in refinements, extensions, or complete revolutions in theory and research in the neurosciences (Glaser & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1994). In addition, just as genetic constitution affects a wide array of social behaviors, the social environment has also been shown to shape genetic expression, neural structures, and biochemical processes (Liu et al., 1997).

In an early review, Cacioppo and Berntson (1992) coined the term social neuroscience and outlined several organizing principles for multilevel integrative research. The first, the principle of multiple determinism, specifies that a target event at one (e.g., a molar) level of organization can have multiple antecedents within or across levels of organization. For example, both research on individual differences in the susceptibility of the endogenous opioid receptor system and on the role of social context have contributed to our understanding of drug abuse.

The second, the principle of nonadditive determinism, specifies that properties of the whole are not always readily predictable from the properties of the parts. In an illustrative study, the effects of amphetamine on behavior of nonhuman primates were indeterminate until each primate's position in the social hierarchy was considered (Haber & Barchas, 1983). The inclusion of this social factor revealed an orderly relationship, such that amphetamines increased the dominant behavior in primates high in the social hierarchy and increased submissive behavior in those low in the social hierarchy.

The third, the principle of reciprocal determinism, specifies that there can be mutual influences between microscopic (e.g., biological) and macroscopic (e.g., social) factors in determining behavior. For example, not only has the level of testosterone in nonhuman male primates been shown to promote sexual behavior, but the availability of receptive females influences the level of testosterone in nonhuman primates (Berntstein, Gordon, & Rose, 1983). The implication of this and the preceding principles is that multilevel analyses spanning neural and social perspectives contribute to scientific investigations of complex human behavior and foster more comprehensive accounts of cognition, emotion, behavior, and health.

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