Social Neuroscience and Human Behaviour

Image Source:

Social neuroscience enables us to study how our brain is assisting us in our social interactions. Neuroscientists are looking for neural correlates of our consciousness and are trying to uncover the neural mechanism that governs our social behaviour. We have a social brain and are not just able to read the minds or mental states of others but are also able to influence and be influenced by the behaviour of others.

Decoding our Social Brain

The social brain hypothesis has its origin in an attempt of neuroscientists to explain why the brains of primates are large for their body size compared with all other mammals. This explanation initially proposed the social intelligence hypothesis and the machiavellian intelligence hypothesis that is required to deal with the complex social environment. The consensus later settled on the term social brain hypothesis. It is found that the issue is not so much about the size of the brain as we have mammals having brains larger than humans as in the case of elephants and some dolphins. It is the size of the neocortex that matters in the development of a social brain. This means the human social brain enables humans to pull their cognitive resources to respond to complex social situations like no other species. Neuroimaging has manifested that a network of brain regions supports complex social interactions. Within these networks, each region contributes to a specific type of social processing. The right temporoparietal junction, for instance, is important to think about the other person’s mental state while the amygdala is important for the interpretation of facial expressions and fear processing. Any damage to these regions of our brain manifests a striking impact on our social behaviour. The social brain is not just a result of social interactions but is also constituted by genetic as well as biological factors. But all in all, it all shows that there is a neural basis of our social interactions.

Decoding Mentalising

the term mentalising is coined to refer to the process by which we make inferences about our mental states. Several of these inferences are made automatically without much thought or deliberation. We read the mind of others because reading the mental states of other enable us to understand their behaviour and enable us to interact with other. Mentalising or the theory of mind network comprises anterior and posterior midline regions ( medial prefrontal cortex, MPFC, posterior cingulate, PPC) as well as lateral parietal regions ( temporoparietal junction, TPJ, and superior temporal sulcus, STS ). Later studies manifested that this network plays a role in social cognitive processing in a broad manner, that include selecting on personality characteristics of oneself and others, emotional processing and inferring intentions from actions. The primary function of this network is thought to be reflective or deliberate reasoning about one’s own or the other’s thoughts, beliefs, emotions or personality characteristics. It has also been noticed that this network is also used in contexts that do not need deliberate reasoning about mental states. Thus, the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) is engaged when a participant hears their name called, makes eye contact with the experimenter or views communicative facial gestures. It is also found that communicative arms and gestures also use these networks.

Mirror Neurons System (MNS)

The mirror neuron system is activated in our brain when we move our body or observe the activities of other agents. They help us learn from others through observation. This is why we are very good at learning by imitating. They are also been thought of as the reason why we exhibit empathy. We need more research to really pin down that mirror neuron are responsible for empathy. We go to a movie and often cry. This is because of empathy. Mirror neurones might explain how we can bring about life-turning changes in others. Mirror neurons send messages to our motor system and generate a responsive behaviour. They were first discovered in monkeys in the early 1990s and later they were found in humans. Experimentation concerning execution, imitation, and imagination conditions has revealed their existence. MNS is divided into two principle hubs; the premotor area of the frontal lobe and the inferior parietal lobule (IPL). Besides, the superior temporal sulcus (STS) is thought to be the key area of MNS. STS is a brain area that is responsible for biological movement. It is thought to be not part of MNS because it does not have motor properties. The STS offers audio-visual-motor links that are integrating our seeing, hearing and acting. Some researchers point out that we also have mirror neurons that exhibit anti-mirror neuron properties. These studies are still young. They may explain why we hate others.


Our social life is produced by our brains. We have a social brain that mentalizes or infers the mental states of others and chooses our responses. Besides, we influence as well as being influenced by our mirror neurons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao