© Copyright JASSS

JASSS logo ------

Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explanations of Social Behavior

Harmon-Jones, Eddie and Winkielman, Piotr (Eds.)
Guilford Press: London, 2008
ISBN 159385644X (pb)

Order this book

Reviewed by Adolfo López-Paredes
INSISOC - University of Valladolid

Cover of book That neuroscience can benefit Economics or Political Science has been firstly introduced by Camerer et al (2005), Singer and Fehr (2005), Fehr and Camerer (2007) and Hibbing and Smith (2007). They have showed the way social scientists in general and the social simulation community in particular can benefit by combining the biological approach with social behavior. The new methods used in neuroscience provide the opportunity to understand the mechanisms that underlie social behavior, combining social and biological approaches.

Social Neuroscience emerges as a new field of research that editors of the reviewed volume define as "an integrative field that examines how nervous (central and peripheral), endocrine and immune systems are involved in sociocultural processes". This volume is composed of a brief introduction to social neuroscience from editors (chapter 1), and 21 papers that have been grouped in five subsections: emotion processes; motivation processes; attitudes and social cognition; person perception, stereotyping and prejudice; and interpersonal relationships. Although the book is not about neuroscience methods, most of them are well represented (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Event-related brain potential methods, etc.) and the beginner receives a general overview of them that will be necessary to understand experiments. For those interested in planning and design of laboratory experiments beyond the choice of methods, it is convenient to remark the Iacobini's advise on ecological validity of laboratory tasks performed by subjects.

Authors were encouraged by editors to specify the theoretical contributions adopting the social neuroscience approach, and most papers fit this goal, although it happens that interesting results (for social scientists) from experimental sessions are not summarized in the conclusions subsection.

Contributing authors recognize that social neuroscience is at an early stage of development, and that there is a long way to run and many opportunities will emerge for social sciences research. Notwithstanding, in this volume, some issues that should be useful for social scientist are models of perception-motivational-control-regulatory processes and biological-social mechanisms that can be overlapped to explain complex human decisions. In this sense, the relevance of context (papers from Lieberman and Iacobini); rewards (by Knutson and Wimmer) and social bonds (by Carter) as motivational processes; and studies on empathy (by Decety), processes related to emotions (Jennifer Beer, Heberlein and Adolphs, Norris and Cacioppo, Van Honk and Schutter, Oschner, Harmon-Jones) and social encoding (by Ito et al) are some of those that a priori can result exciting for JASSS readers.

The main purpose of this review is to identify and outline those issues that could succeed to extend previous research in social simulation and open the window to explore classical problems. To be clear in such exposition, in the next paragraphs each contributing paper is summarized explaining the main conclusions (social and biological) for the JASSS reader. Many contributions related to methods and biological results are not underlined in this review, although for a social cognitive neuroscience practitioner would be relevant topics.

Jennifer Beer focuses on understanding the ways in which emotion and social cognition interact. She studies the role of orbitofrontal cortex in emotion-cognition interactions for social adjustment. After a careful review of previous research, she explains undertaken experiments to monitor emotional influences on decision making. Heberlein and Adolphs review the evidence for simulation-based models of emotion recognition and the role played by amygdale, insula (a section of cortex) and right somatosensory cortex. There is evidence that, to recognize emotions in others, observers must simulate aspects of the specific emotion in the person being observed. They conclude the minimum components to produce a complete model of the neural processes underlying emotion recognition, and some considerations that make difficult at this stage to finish that model. Kudielka, Hellhammer and Kirschbaum focus on describing the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and reviewing the literature on recent related research (more than 4000 sessions in the last decade) to study the hormone cortisol in the lab. Authors describe the impact of some variables as gender, age, social support, social hierarchy and genetic factors to identify the sources of intra-interindividual differences in the net hormone output, as well as the time course of hormone secretion.

Norris and Cacioppo claim that emotions are critical for our social relationships and that relationships are important for our and the collective emotional well-being. It determines that studying emotions should include in an integrative way social perception, reasoning and behavior. They present evidence that social and emotional stimuli can have additive and synergistic effects on neural substrates, and that social stimuli can also modulate the experience and expression of emotions. Oschner reviews the mechanisms of emotion regulation, and suggests that we can modify the way we feel by changing the way we think. He proposes two ways in which top-down cognitive processes can be used to regulate bottom-up emotion-generative processes: the use of attention to control the impact the stimuli have on us, and the use of cognition to control how one appraises the meaning of aversive stimuli. Harmon-Jones studies the relationship between emotions and motivations. He focuses on the anger emotion to address an important fail in the valence models: not all emotions present the same relationship between the valence of emotion and the direction of motivation. A careful review of literature above the anger emotion and the asymmetrical frontal activity concludes that motivational direction in the analysis of emotion, particularly as it relates to asymmetrical frontal brain activity, is especially important.

Knutson and Wimmer present their research on rewards as motivational processes. Anticipation of nonsocial rewards such as money, food or pleasant sensations (but also social rewards) activates a part of our brain, the NAcc (Nucleus accumbens). It confirms the idea of Expected Value, and that it can affect social exchange. Authors support their proposal with a variety of studies involving financial and nonfinancial rewards. Schultheiss shows two bio-behavioral models, for male and female power motivation (individual differences in affective preferences for having impact on other people or the world at a large). These models exploit empirical evidence of previous research on power motivation and how it interacts with social situations concerning dominance to produce differences in hormone release. Van Honk and Schutter have performed a full program to discover the relations between emotions and physiological responses to angry facial expressions. They present different studies exploring the role of the hormones cortisol and testosterone, of the left and the right prefrontal cortex, and on the left and the right parietal cortex with different techniques. Cunningham and Johnson open the subsection of attitudes and social cognition with a paper that explores the evaluative processes that underlie attitudes. They briefly introduce an application to explain prejudice, founded on the important role that control processes play inhibiting or reconstruing an activated emotional response. Decety proposes a model of human empathy that integrates different and independent computational mechanisms to support affective and cognitive components: affective sharing, self-awareness, mental flexibility and regulatory processes (i.e., emotion regulation).

Fazendeiro, Chenier and Winkielman study the emergence of affective and cognitive experiences from the dynamics of information processing ('fluency' doing mental operations). They describe some experiments that reinforce the idea that fluency enhances recognition judgments and preferences and conclude that fluency, familiarity and affect are highly connected, although the brain mechanisms involved are unknown at the moment. Lieberman explores the neural basis of automatic and controlled social cognition, and consider that both, automatic (X-System) and controlled (C-System) processes are different, independent and functionally intertwined. He devotes special attention to experiments related to learning, prejudices, self-knowledge, personality, emotion regulation and affect so to explain the differences and the interrelationships between both X and C Systems. Important conclusions are that our ability to think and learn flexibly costs time and effort, and consequently, our decisions are context dependent.

Stone argues that 'Theory of Mind' (TOM), the ability to infer other's mental states, is a cognitive capacity which depends on domain-specific social abilities that we share with other primates. In the paper she explores what abilities emerge when, which abilities seem to be specific-domain, and how domain-general abilities (recursion, metarepresentation and executive cognitive control) might depend on domain specific ones to produce complex social cognition. Amodio, Devine and Harmon-Jones investigate neural mechanisms that regulate intergroup responses looking for different personal and situational factors. In the context of prejudice and stereotyping research, they focus on sociocognitive mechanisms that underlie different aspects of race-based responses. Bartholow and Dickter focus on the person perception topic and the results provided by event related brain potential (ERP) technique. Cognitive and affective processes play a central role in models of person perception.

Ito, Willadsen-Jensen and Correll examine how individuals are categorized into social groups and how prejudices and stereotypes are activated and influence behavior. Authors confirm that encoding of social category information is a multistage process we apply in person perception, that provides beneficial effects on stereotype and prejudice activation. Carter widely explains the biological basis of social bonds: the (social) conditions that lead to form a social bond and the hormones that have been implicated in that. Oxytocin and vasopressin would be regulating social bonding in a species-specific, gender-specific, and individual-specific manner. Iacobini argues that being social is one of the default states in humans which must be considered when designing and preparing laboratory experiments. His findings on imitation neural mechanisms are the basis to formulate the three assumptions addressed in the paper: the subject-world and inner-outer dichotomy, the disembodied internal representation of outer world and the atomism of input (our mind can process elements of the world independent of each other and of the context they are).

Taylor and Gonzaga investigate the interplay of social and biological responses to stress. In this paper they propose that oxytocine may act as a social thermostat which is responsive to adequacy of social resources. Uchino, Holt-Lunstad, Uno, Campo and Reblin investigate the cardiovascular consequences of close social relationship variables: lower perception of stress; low social support; hostility; perceived stress or health behavior.

We can conclude that a very exciting field of research has emerged. This field will provide novel and successful results in social sciences, exploiting the benefits of integrative approaches and the new methodologies that offer biological data from lab experimentation.

* References

CAMERER, C, LOEWENSTEIN, G and PRELEC, D (2005) Neuroeconomics: How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics. Journal of Economic Literature, XLIII(March), pp. 9-64

FEHR, E and CAMERER, C (2007) Social neuroeconomics: the neural circuitry of social preferences. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, 11(10), pp 419-427

HIBBING, JR and SMITH, KB (2007) The Biology of Political Behavior: An Introduction. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 614(1), pp. 6-14

SINGER, T and FEHR, E (2005) The Neuroeconomics of Mind Reading and Empathy. American Economic Review, 95(2), pp 340-345.


ButtonReturn to Contents of this issue

© Copyright Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 2008