New insights into the wiring and firing of the “social brain” in humans and primates reveals the brain areas important in altruistic motives and behavior, and the brain regions that respond to the pain of discrimination. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
The social brain consists of the structures and circuits that help people understand others’ intentions, beliefs, and desires, and how to behave appropriately. Its smooth functioning is essential to humans’ ability to cooperate. Its dysfunction is implicated in a range of disorders, from autism, to psychopathology, to schizophrenia.
The new findings show that:
- Primates employ three different parts of the prefrontal cortex in decisions about whether to give or keep prized treats. These findings illuminate a poorly understood brain circuit, and offer possible insights into human sharing and other social behavior (Steve Chang, PhD, abstract 129.10).
- Different brain regions are engaged in altruistic behavior that is motivated by genuine caring versus altruistic behavior motivated by a concern for reputation or self-image (Cendri Hutcherson, PhD, abstract 129.06).
- The experience of racial discrimination triggers activity in the same brain regions that respond to pain, social rejection, and other stressful experiences (Arpana Gupta, PhD, abstract 402.06).
Another recent finding discussed shows that:
- Competition against a human opponent or a computer engages the same parts of the brain, with one exception: the temporal parietal junction is used to predict only a human’s upcoming actions (Ronald Carter, PhD).
“Whenever we engage with others – or even anticipate others’ responses to us – the social brain is at work, shaping our actions, reactions, and interactions,” said press conference moderator Anna Rose Childress, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, an expert in neuroimaging and addiction research. “The more we understand the brain processes that underlie basic social emotions, the better we will be able to address conditions that involve social dysfunctions.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.
Society for Neuroscience