Building connections with the Social Brains

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Human beings are inherently social creatures, yet relatively little attention has been paid to social influences on the brain. The primary goal of this course will be to begin to explore social influences on the nervous system, including the neural basis of social interaction, and the neural basis of beliefs about our social world.  Contributions from social psychology and social neuroscience will be addressed and emphasis will be placed on the analysis of primary literature investigating social, environmental, and cultural influences on human brain processes.

The social brain has amazing abilities, from a “fast path” for recognizing faces to special circuits for recognizing emotions within those faces to detecting eye gaze and intent. Humans are excellent predictors in social situations, understanding others’ intentions, sharing their attention, and understanding what others know or feel. These abilities develop early in life and are important stages of cognitive development. 

The advent of neuroimaging techniques has provided social cognition neuroscientists with new ways to investigate the brain bases for these complex social abilities and processes. The brain areas for these social abilities are distributed throughout the cortex and into subcortical regions. Importantly, the social brain network is tightly coupled with the emotional pathways, providing the ability to decode not just a new face but the emotional expression on that face. 

Many open questions still remain to be discovered in the new field of social cognitive neuroscience, with new techniques being developed for uncovering the social brain’s mysteries.

Topics include the Evolution of the ‘social’ brain, developing the social brain and theory of mind, the role of perspective-taking and getting social.

Learning Objectives

1) Critically evaluate research within social neuroscience and consider applications in other contexts.

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