Paper review - Social cognition & the human brain.

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Paper reviewed by Melanie Darwood as part of the requirement for Cognitive Anthropology module, BSc Cognitive Science.

Paper Title: Social Cognition & the Human Brain,

Written by Ralph Adolphs, from Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Humans are extremely social animals, but the neural foundations of social cognition & behaviour aren’t well understood. Studies have highlighted structures that have a key role in guiding social behaviour, including the amygdale, ventromedial frontal cortices & right somatosensory-related cortex.

They appear to act as a go-between between perceptual representations & retrieval of knowledge.

Social cognition refers to processes that subserve behaviour in response to conspecifics (that is, other individuals of the same species) particularly those concerned with the varied & flexible social behaviours found in primates. It is suggested that humans’ unique cognitive skills can be traced to development in an environment in which there was a reward for social skills. To support this there is correlation between group size & the ratio of neo-cortex volume to the rest of the brain among numerous primate species, also for other mammals that have a complex social structure. Another suggestion is that brain size correlates with other factors, such as tool use, longevity or dietary foraging strategy, but brain size could be a partial result of primates having an intricate ecological position regarding social structure. This hypothesis is called the Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis or the Social Brain hypothesis, & suggests that the sophisticated primate’s social structure, with its characteristics of cooperativity & deception led to an advantage for larger brains.

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This paper looks at the neural foundations of social cognition using lesion studies & functional imaging in the context of what is already known about social cognition, from anthropological, comparative & developmental studies.  There are various studies that suggest there are specialised systems within the brain for processing socially relevant information.

In the 1930’s Kluver & Bucy found that when they inflicted large lesions on monkey brains across the amygdala, temporal neo-cortex & neighbouring areas the monkeys could perceive & respond to objects but their behaviour was inappropriate, compared to the normal emotional significance that would have been ...

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