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21 Apr 2012

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“Social Cognition and the Human Brain”
-Social cognition- processes that subserve behavior in response to conspecifics (other individuals of the
same species) esp those higher cognitive processes subserving the extremely diverse and flexible social
behaviors that are seen in primates
- Evolution from interplay of 1. Groups can provide better security from predators, better
mate choice and more reliable food 2. Mates and food are available also to competitors
from within the group
- Mechanisms for cooperativity, altruism, and other aspects of prosocial behavior and also
coercion, deception and manipulation of conspecifics (dominance hierarchies)
- Correlation btw mean group size and neocortex volume in primate species and other
mammals like bats, carnivores and toothed whales
o The larger the group size, the larger the brains
o “Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis”/”Social Brain Hypothesis” –cooperativity
and deception led to an advantage for larger brains
- Specific neural systems that subserve various aspects of social cognition: amygdala,
temporal cortex, anterior cingulated cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex
An Overview of neurobiology of social cognition in primates
- Non-human primates
o Macroscopic and microscopic findings first suggested that primate brain may
contain neural systems specialized for processing socially relevant info
o 1930s- Kluver and Bucy- made bilateral lesions in amygdale, temporal neocortex etc
Able to perceive and respond to objects in enviro but behaved
inappropriately with respect to emotional significance that objects would
normally signal
Compulsive examination of objects esp with mouth, hypersexuality, unusual
tameness and complete lack of awareness of emotional significance of
stimuli (‘psychic blindness’)
Selective amygdala damage: impair disproportionately behaviors normally
elicited by social cues (so some components of amygdala contribute to
social behavior)
o Single neurons in monkey inferotemporal cortex respond selectively to sight of faces
Modulate response to preferential info about faces like identity, social
status or emotional expression
o Some neurons response to complex scenes of social interaction and also face
features that can signal social info like gaze direction
- Humans
o Emotional and social development of humans is extraordinarily complex- effected
by genes, parental behavior and culture influence
o Social impairments after frontal lobe damage and also in people with autism
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o Frontal lobe: Phineas Gage incident- bilateral lesion to frontal lobe (VMPFC)
Huge change in personality
Severe impairment ability to function in society despite normal on
neuropsychological measures like IQ, language, perception and memory
VMPFC role in associating emotional experience with decision making in
complex situations esp in social domain
o Autism: impairment in ability to attribute mental states like beliefs to others
o Williams syndrome: exhibit social behavior that comes close to being opposite of
that seen in autism- hypersocial, unusual social skills
Show selective sparing in ability to recognize other people’s mental states
from pics of their eyes (task that autism fails)
Show abnormally positive judgments of approachability to unfamiliar faces
Box 1. Social cognition, modularity and innateness
- Focal brain damage can result in impaired processing that is limited to highly specific
- Evidence that categories are in some sense mapped in the brain
- Local rules for organizing neural tissue as a function of activity suffice to generate
topographic representations of abstract stimulus categories
- Similiarity in sensorimotor interaction can translate into functional and anatomical similarity
in the brain
- Or innate specified modules- like language modularity’
- Probably in between the too- some modular and others not
- Most plausible view is to view social cognition as relying on a neural architecture in which
there is interaction btw components that are innately specified and others whose operation
emerges through experience in the context of a specific culture
The Amygdala: social judgment of faces
- Evidence suggests that faces are processed in relatively domain-specific fashion by
neocortical sectors of the temporal lobe
- Fusiform gyrus seems to contribute to perception of faces
- Viewing dynamic info from faces that convey socially relevant info like eye or mouth
movements activate regions in superior temporal sulcus
- High level visual cortices in temporal lobe project to amygdala (role in processing
emotionally and socially salient info from faces)
- Small # of neurons in amygdala respond selectively to faces
- Amygdala critical to recognize emotions from facial expressions, specifically certain negative
emotions like fear
o Process stimuli related to danger and threat or more general role in processing
emotionally arousing stimuli that are either pleasant or aversive
o One theory suggests that it might subserve a more general role in allocating
processing resources to biologically salient stimuli that are ambiguous, and about
which additional info needs to be acquired, regardless of valence of those stimuli
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