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Article

Social Participation and Volunteering in Later Life  

Nancy Morrow-Howell, Yi Wang, and Takashi Amano

Social participation is a key element of a healthy later life; and from a life course perspective, social participation declines in later life, due to separation from employment and educational institutions, loss of partners and friends, and restrictions due to functional limitations. Thus, maintaining and increasing participation has gained attention from researchers, program administrators, and policy developers. The term “social participation” means activities that involve social exchange and choice, and volunteering is consistently included. Personal, behavioral, health and social services, economics, and social and physical environmental factors have been associated with social participation and volunteering. Higher levels of human capital, social capital, and cultural capital have been associated with higher levels of participation; and the built and social environment can facilitate engagement. Studies demonstrate the positive effects of social participation and volunteering on physical, cognitive, and psychological health of older adults. Role theory and concepts of coping as well as cognitive enrichment have been used to explain these positive outcomes. Volunteering, as a form of social participation, has received much academic attention in the last decade for a few reasons because, more than other social activities, it is altruistic. This feature may increase the health-producing benefits of engagement as well as create good for the community. It is often referred to as creating a “win-win” for the individual and for society. Individual, group, and community interventions have been developed to increase social participation. However, evidence supporting effectiveness is limited and programs are underutilized. Future directions include wider implementation of interventions and more attention to the role of environment in increasing social participation, the use of technology in social participation, and increased understanding of the pathways through with social participation and volunteering improve well-being in later life.

Article

Social Development  

Ross D. Parke

Social development is the sub area of developmental psychology that concerns the description of children’s development of relationships with others, their understanding of the meaning of their relationships with others, and their understanding of others’ behaviors, attitudes, and intentions. The examination of the social, emotional, biological, and cognitive processes that account for these developmental changes in social development are of interest as well. The historical shifts in the understanding of social development from Darwin to the present can be traced by an examination of the major theoretical and methodological advances that have characterized this area of inquiry. The history of social development is divided into five time periods—the beginning years (1880–1915), a period of conceptual clashes (1915–1940), a period of expansion (1940–1960), an era that saw the rise of contemporary themes (1960–1985), and the current period (from 1985 to 2019). Finally, future directions and unresolved issues are noted.

Article

Social Cognition  

Kyle G. Ratner

Contemporary models of how the mind operates and methods for testing them emerged from the cognitive revolution in the middle of the 20th century. Social psychology researchers of the 1970s and 1980s were inspired by these developments and launched the field of social cognition to understand how cognitive approaches could advance understanding of social processes. Decades later, core social psychology topics, such as impression formation, the self, attitudes, stereotyping and prejudice, and interpersonal relationships, are interpreted through the lens of cognitive psychology conceptualizations of attention, perception, categorization, memory, and reasoning. Social cognitive methods and theory have touched every area of modern social psychology. Twenty-first-century efforts are shoring up methodological practices and revisiting old theories, investigating a wider range of human experience, and tackling new avenues of social functioning.

Article

Social Representation Theory: An Historical Outline  

Wolfgang Wagner

The concept of social representation (SR) was developed by Serge Moscovici in 1961 as a social psychological approach articulating individual thinking and feeling with collective interaction and communication. SRs are conceived as symbolic forms that come about through interpersonal and media communication. They are the ways individuals think, interact with others, and shape social objects in their interaction with the local world. This text presents an outline of the history of social representation theory (SRT), using a four-period model: first, creation and incubation in France starting with Moscovici’s first book; second, the opening to the English-speaking academe around 1980; third, institutionalization and proliferation with the start of the journal papers on SRs and regular conferences in 1992; and, fourth, normalization, approximately from 2000 onwards. The first period (1961–1984) started with Serge Moscovici’s first presentation of his ideas in a French-language volume on “La psychanalyse son image et son public.” This was republished in an updated version in 1976 and translated into English in 2008. The theory postulates cognitive and social factors in the genesis and structure of SRs. These are accompanied by specific styles of communication that reflect the communicators’ identity and ideology. Together these aspects constitute common sense. The first period was a time of incubation because Moscovici and his first PhD students, Claudine Herzlich, Denise Jodelet, and Jean-Claude Abric, tried the concept in different domains. The second half of this period saw Moscovici and collaborators extend SRT’s theoretical frame to include the idea of consensual vs. reified domains. A consensual domain of communication is characterized by the free interchange of attitudes and opinions, while a reified domain is determined by institutionalized rules. Moscovici also postulated a process of cognitive polyphasia. By cognitive polyphasia he described a phenomenon where individuals use different and even contradictory thoughts about the same issue depending on the social setting they are in. The year 1984 marked the publication of a book for English-speaking scholars edited by Robert Farr and Moscovici that collected papers from an international conference in 1979. It was the first book-length collection of works on SRT and highlighted empirical research by a variety of international scholars. The period following 1979 through to 1992 saw a broadening of the base of scholars becoming interested in SRT. The 1980s brought Willem Doise’s conceptualizing of anchoring as a process of social marking, Abric’s theory of core and peripheral elements of a representation, and Hilde Himmelweit’s founding of a societal psychology. Proliferation was boosted 1992 by the founding of the journal Papers on Social Representations and the beginning of a biannual series of International Conferences on Social Representations, starting in 1992. This increased the international visibility of SRT and helped scholars to organize themselves around topics and form cross-national research groups. The period from 1992 to the first decade of the new century was characterized by an increasing number of empirical and theoretical studies. A series of theoretical branches emerged: there was research on the micro-genesis of SRs on the individual level, an extension of the structural theory of SRs, the discussion of the socially constructive aspects and sociopolitical uses of SRT, the design of a dialogical approach to the mind and social life, and Moscovici’s suggestion to consider large-scale themata as a factor in social thinking. If the period after 1992 was a time of institutionalization, the time after the turn of the century can be called a period of normalization. That is, a period when SRT was presented in chapters for handbooks of social psychology and when dedicated handbooks and monographs were published. From this period onward it becomes virtually impossible to give even a superficial account of the most important contributions to SRT’s burgeoning field of research and theory development.

Article

Social Isolation and Loneliness in Old Age  

Clemens Tesch-Roemer and Oliver Huxhold

Social isolation refers to the objective lack of social integration. Loneliness, in contrast, refers to the perceived lack of social integration. Loneliness has serious consequences for the well-being of aging persons. Individuals who feel lonely tend to have poorer health, less autonomy, and lower subjective well-being than individuals who do not feel lonely. Lonely individuals even tend to become more socially isolated over time. While prevalence rates of social isolation increase with advancing age, only a minority of older people suffer from severe loneliness, however. Hence, loneliness is not necessarily a consequence of growing old, but rather, depends on specific risk factors (e.g., social needs, social expectations, resources, and competencies). Interventions therefore should be focused on these risk factors (unfulfilled social needs, unmet social perceptions, and lack of resources and competencies).

Article

Minority Influence and Social Change  

Amber M. Gaffney

Societies and small groups only undergo change when individuals or groups dissent from the dominant perspective. The powerful rarely have the motivation to share their power and resources or to create change to a system that benefits them. Therefore, the onus of social change is often carried by those who lack the resources or numbers to make the ones in power bend their knees. Social change is often the product of the hard work of minority groups and the consistent branding of perspectives that provide an alternative vision to dominant majority perspectives. As witnessed by the typically slow nature of societal progress, the vast number of attempts from minorities to create social change are unsuccessful or require their efforts to extend over long periods of time. However, when they are successful, they transform groups and societies (both for the greater good and for destructive purposes). The major areas of empirical research in the minority influence tradition focus how minorities and majorities differently impact message processing. However, the literature can benefit from more fully examining the contexts in which minority influence occurs. This requires a scholarly focus on group processes and intergroup relations to be integrated into the minority influence tradition to expand the motives underlying minority influence and social change. Moreover, considering the target's relationship to both minority and majority sources and the implications these sources have for group composition and intergroup relations will help to expand this large innovative body of work

Article

Social Comparison in Organizations  

Abraham P. Buunk

Social comparison is a basic process that refers to comparing, for instance, one’s accomplishments, one’s salary, one’s career potential, one’s emotions, or one’s abilities with those of others. Within organizations, social comparisons are widespread, and may evoke positive and negative responses. Social comparisons with others doing better may increase motivation, but also install envy, whereas comparison with others doing worse may increase satisfaction, but may also induce fear and worry and may be associated with an increased risk of burnout. Social comparisons will affect especially individuals high in social-comparison orientation—a strong, partially innate, tendency to compare oneself with others.

Article

Conservation and the Environment  

Adam R. Pearson and Matthew T. Ballew

Environmental sustainability, the long-term management and protection of earth’s resources and ecosystems, is increasingly recognized as a societal challenge shaped by human behavior at every level of social interaction, from neighborhoods to nations. Psychological perspectives on conservation, which have traditionally emphasized individual determinants of proenvironmental behavior (e.g., personal environmental concern), have begun to incorporate a more nuanced picture of the ways in which both individual and group-level processes can influence conservation efforts. In particular, research on social norms and identity-based influences suggests that social perceptions, such as beliefs about what actions are common and socially valued, can be more powerful drivers of conservation behavior than monetary incentives, proenvironmental appeals, or the ease of proenvironmental actions. Additional research has begun to incorporate cross-cultural perspectives and insights from diversity science and intervention science to better understand how different cultural orientations and social identity processes, such as those related to race, ethnicity, and social class, impact environmental decision-making. A new class of “wise” interventions that target psychological mechanisms that shape conservation behavior, such as interventions that incorporate normative feedback, target public behavior, or seek to alter daily routines during major life transitions, have proven especially effective at promoting sustained behavior change. Generally, behavioral interventions are more effective at promoting conservation behavior when they are tailored to the social context in which behavior occurs.

Article

The Social Brain Hypothesis and Human Evolution  

Robin I. M. Dunbar

Primate societies are unusually complex compared to those of other animals, and the need to manage such complexity is the main explanation for the fact that primates have unusually large brains. Primate sociality is based on bonded relationships that underpin coalitions, which in turn are designed to buffer individuals against the social stresses of living in large, stable groups. This is reflected in a correlation between social group size and neocortex size in primates (but not other species of animals), commonly known as the social brain hypothesis, although this relationship itself is the outcome of an underlying relationship between brain size and behavioral complexity. The relationship between brain size and group size is mediated, in humans at least, by mentalizing skills. Neuropsychologically, these are all associated with the size of units within the theory of mind network (linking prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe units). In addition, primate sociality involves a dual-process mechanism whereby the endorphin system provides a psychopharmacological platform off which the cognitive component is then built. This article considers the implications of these findings for the evolution of human cognition over the course of hominin evolution.

Article

History of Social Psychology at Mid-20th Century  

Thomas F. Pettigrew

The discipline of psychology has an extremely broad range—from the life sciences to the social sciences, from neuroscience to social psychology. These distinctly different components have varying histories of their own. Social psychology is psychology’s social science wing. The major social sciences—anthropology, economics, sociology, and political science—all had their origins in the 19th century or even earlier. But social psychology is much younger; it developed both in Europe and North America in the 20th century. The field’s enormous growth over the past century began modestly with a few scant locations, several textbooks, and a single journal in the 1920s. Today’s social psychologists would barely recognize their discipline in the years prior to World War II. But trends forming in the 1920s and 1930s would become important years later. With steady growth, especially starting in the 1960s, the discipline gained thousands of new doctorates and multiple journals scattered throughout the world. Social psychology has become a recognized, influential, and often-cited social science. It is the basis, for example, of behavioral economics as well as such key theories as authoritarianism in political science. Central to this extraordinary expansion were the principal events of mid-20th century. World War II, the growth of universities and the social sciences in general, rising prosperity, statistical advances, and other global changes set the stage for the discipline’s rapid development. Together with this growth, social psychology has expanded its topics in both the affective and cognitive domains. Indeed, new theories are so numerous that theoretical integration has become a prime need for the discipline.

Article

History of Social Psychology  

Andrew Ward

Social psychology represents a scientific approach that fosters advances in both theory and practical application designed to understand and enhance interactions among individuals and groups.

Article

Cognitive Consistency in Social Cognition  

Skylar M. Brannon and Bertram Gawronski

The desire to maintain consistency between cognitions has been recognized by many psychologists as an important human motive. Research on this topic has been highly influential in a variety of areas of social cognition, including attitudes, person perception, prejudice and stereotyping, and self-evaluation. In his seminal work on cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger noted that inconsistencies between cognitions result in negative affect. Further, he argued that the motivation to maintain consistency is a basic motive that is intrinsically important. Subsequent theorists posed revisions to Festinger’s original theory, suggesting that consistency is only important to the extent that it allows one to maintain a desired self-view or to communicate traits to others. According to these theorists, the motivation to maintain consistency serves as a means toward a superordinate motive, not as an end in itself. Building on this argument, more recent perspectives suggest that consistency is important for the execution of context-appropriate action and the acquisition and validation of knowledge. Several important lines of research grew out of the idea that cognitive consistency plays a central role in social information processing. One dominant line of research has aimed toward understanding how people deal with inconsistencies between their attitudes and their behaviors. Other research has investigated how individuals maintain their beliefs either by (1) avoiding exposure to contradictory information or (2) engaging in cognitive processes aimed toward reconciling an inconsistency after being exposed to contradictory information. Cognitive consistency perspectives have also been leveraged to understand (1) the conditions under which explicit and implicit evaluations correlate with one another, (2) when change in one type of evaluation corresponds with change in the other, and (3) the roles of distinct types of consistency principles underlying explicit and implicit evaluations. Expanding on these works, newer lines of research have provided important revisions and extensions to early research on cognitive consistency, focusing on (1) the identification of inconsistency, (2) the elicitation of negative affect in response to inconsistency, and (3) behavioral responses aimed to restore inconsistency or mitigate the negative feelings arising from inconsistency. For example, some research has suggested that, instead of following the rules of formal logic, perceptions of (in)consistency are driven by “psycho-logic” in that individuals may perceive inconsistency when there is logical consistency, and vice versa. Further, reconciling conflicting research on the affective responses to inconsistency, recent work suggests that all inconsistencies first elicit negative affect, but immediate affective reactions may change in line with the hedonic experience of the event when an individual has time to make sense of the inconsistency. Finally, new frameworks have been proposed to unite a broad range of phenomena under one unifying umbrella, using the concept of cognitive consistency as a common denominator.

Article

Multicultural Sport Psychology’s Consulting Role in the United States Activist–Athlete Movement  

Jessica L. David, Jesse A. Steinfeldt, I. S. Keino Miller, and Jacqueline E. Hyman

Multiculturalism is a broad term that encapsulates a number of idealistic constructs related to inclusion, understanding the diverse experiences of others, and creating equitable access to resources and opportunity in our society. Social justice activism is a core tenet of multiculturalism. In order to be optimally effective, multiculturalism needs to be an “action word” rather than a passive construct, one that is inextricably linked to the ability to commit to and engage in an agenda of social justice wherein the inclusive ideals of multiculturalism are actively sought out and fought for. One such domain where the constructs of multiculturalism and social action are playing out in real time is within U.S. sport. U.S. athletes across all ranks (i.e., Olympic, professional, college, and youth sports) are actively engaging in social justice activism by using their platforms to advocate for equality and human rights. A recent display of activism that has garnered worldwide attention was the silent protest of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. During the National Football League (NFL) preseason games of the 2016 season, Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the U.S. national anthem as a means to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and the killing of African Americans. Since the start of his protest, athletes around the nation and the world have joined the activist–athlete movement, thereby raising awareness of the mistreatment of African Americans within U.S. society. The activist–athlete movement has amassed support and generated momentum, but consulting sport psychology professionals can adopt a more active role to better support athletes, thereby advancing the movement. Consulting sport psychologists can strive to better understand the nature of athlete-activism and aspire to help their athlete clients explore and express their opinions so they can work to effect meaningful societal change, using sport as the vehicle for their message.

Article

Organizational Sensemaking  

Ravi S. Kudesia

Since the 1980s, the management and organizations literature has grown substantially, turning over the years toward cognitive, discursive, and phenomenological perspectives. At the heart of this continued growth and its many turns is the matter of sensemaking. Construed narrowly, sensemaking describes the process whereby people notice and interpret equivocal events and coordinate a response to clarify what such events mean. More broadly, sensemaking offers a unique perspective on organizations. This perspective calls attention to how members of organizations reach understandings of their environment through verbal and embodied behaviors, how these understandings both enable and constrain their subsequent behavior, and how this subsequent behavior changes the environment in ways that necessitate new understandings. Whereas organizational psychology constructs typically fit most comfortably into a linear “boxes and arrows” paradigm, sensemaking highlights a recursive and ongoing process. Sense is never made in a lasting way: It is always subject to disruption and therefore must be continually re-accomplished. As a result, sensemaking is especially evident when equivocal events cause breakdowns in meaning. Such breakdowns render organizations incapable of answering two key questions: “What’s going on here?” and “What should we do about it?” Not coincidentally, such events—including crisis situations, strategic change episodes, firm formations and dissolutions, and new member socialization—are among the most pivotal events that occur in organizations. Sensemaking is therefore strongly implicated in organizational change, learning, and identity. Sensemaking can appear impenetrable to newcomers for precisely the same reason that it enables remarkably incisive analyses: the sensemaking perspective helps disrupt limiting rationality assumptions that are so often embedded in organizational theories. As such, sensemaking sensitizes scholars to counterintuitive aspects of organizational life. These aspects include how action in organizations often precedes understanding rather than following from it, how organizations are beset by a surplus of possible meanings rather than a scarcity of information, how retrospective thought processes often trump future-oriented ones, and how organizations help create the environments to which they must react. Nonetheless, despite these advances and insights, much remains to be learned about sensemaking as it relates to emotion and embodiment; as it occurs across individual, group, organizational, and institutional levels of analysis; and as it both shapes and is shaped by new technologies.

Article

Prejudice  

John F. Dovidio, Fabian M. H. Schellhaas, and Adam R. Pearson

Prejudice is an attitude toward a social group and its members that can be expressed as either a negative or positive (e.g., paternalistic) evaluation and creates or maintains hierarchical status relations between groups. The origins of prejudice include individual differences in personality and ideological preferences, socialization experiences relating to exposure to different social norms, and the functional ways that groups relate to one another. Prejudice can be measured directly through self-report measures or indirectly through patterns of behavior or with techniques such as response latency methods. Moreover, implicit prejudice, which is automatically activated, can be distinguished from explicit prejudice, an attitude people know that they hold and may be able to control. Both types of prejudice predict discrimination—the differential treatment of a group or its members—but the strength of these relationships varies as a function of a variety of contextual factors (e.g., social norms). Because of the wide range of forces that shape prejudice and the functional nature of bias, prejudice can be difficult to change. Among the more robust ways to reduce prejudice are strategies that promote frequent, positive contact with members of another group; encourage people to categorize others in ways that emphasize shared group identities; or alter automatic associations underlying implicit bias. The study of prejudice continues to be an important and actively researched topic in social psychology, with contemporary approaches increasingly considering a broader range of micro- (e.g., genetics) and macro-level (e.g., culture) forces that shape the nature of prejudice and its influence on discriminatory behavior.

Article

Intergroup Behavior  

Aharon Levy and John F. Dovidio

Intergroup behavior involves the feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and actions that groups and their members have toward another group and its members. It frequently involves various forms of bias, such as prejudice (negative feelings and evaluations), stereotypes (beliefs about groups and their members), and discrimination (unfair treatment). However, intergroup bias does not necessarily require overtly negative orientations toward another group. Such bias may reflect favorable attitudes toward members of one’s own group (the ingroup) and preferential treatment of them, rather than hostility or ill-treatment of other groups (outgroups). Intergroup behavior can also be positive, representing cooperation (conduct and exchange that benefits both the ingroup and the outgroup) or prosocial behavior (actions that improve the welfare of another group and its members). The nature of intergroup behavior is determined by psychological processes associated with social categorization, by the identification and motivations of group members, and by the consequent relationship between groups. These processes apply to almost any type of group, including but not limited to work teams, divisions within an organization, companies, sport clubs, ethnic groups, countries, religions, and races. Understanding the psychological dynamics of intergroup relations can guide the development of interventions to achieve stable, constructive, and mutually beneficial exchanges between groups and their members.

Article

Cultures of Honor  

Patricia M. Rodriguez Mosquera

Honor is complex, deeply relational, and important in many cultures and social groups. A definition of honor as multifaceted and consisting of a set of interrelated honor codes, i.e., the honor-as-multifaceted approach to honor, is presented and discussed by Rodriguez Mosquera. This definition provides researchers the conceptual boundaries of honor as a construct as well as methodological guidelines on how to operationalize honor in empirical research. Furthermore, the honor-as-multifaceted approach provides researchers with a definition of cultures of honor as those in which honor codes become culturally shared psychological concerns that individuals evaluate as important to their self-esteem and self-concept, thereby influencing their cognitions, motivations, emotions, and behaviors. The Honor Scale measures honor codes in line with this definition. A review of existing empirical research on honor in a wide variety of cultures and social groups is also presented and discussed. Some of the work reviewed is cross-cultural in nature, whereas other work focuses on how honor operates in particular cultures or social groups (e.g., British Muslims; Moroccan Dutch and Turkish Dutch youth; Southern Italian criminal organizations; the Canadian Army). The reviewed research provides empirical support for the honor-as-multifaceted approach and demonstrates the centrality of honor codes in a variety of psychological and social processes, including personality, the negotiation of gendered roles within the family, attitudes toward in-group members, emotions in response to threats to collective honor, intergroup conflict, the negotiation of power in intergroup relations, in-group identification processes, and prosocial motivations. Thus, the reviewed research shows that honor codes play an important role in processes at the different levels of analysis typically studied in the social sciences—individual, interpersonal, group, cultural—thereby making honor an important topic of inquiry for psychologists and other social scientists. Avenues for future research are also discussed.

Article

Crowds and Collective Behavior  

John Drury and Stephen Reicher

The challenge for a psychology of crowds and collective behavior is to explain how large numbers of people are, spontaneously, able to act together in patterned and socially meaningful ways and, at the same time, how crowd events can bring about social and psychological change. Classical theories, which treat crowd psychology as pathological, deny any meaning to crowd action. More recent normative and rationalist models begin to explain the coherence of crowd action but are unable to explain how that links to broader social systems of meaning. In both cases, the explanatory impasse derives from an individualistic conception of selfhood that denies any social basis to behavioral control. Such a basis is provided by the social identity approach. This proposes that crowd formation is underpinned by the development of shared social identity whereby people see themselves and others in terms of membership of a common category. This leads to three psychological transformations: members perceive the world in terms of collective values and belief systems; they coordinate themselves effectively; and hence they are empowered to realize their collective goals. These transformations explain the social form of crowd action. At the same time, crowd events are intergroup phenomena. It is through the intergroup dynamics between the crowd and an out-group (typically the police)—more specifically the way the social position of crowd members can change through the way police officers understand and respond to their actions—that change can occur. The social identity framework helps make sense of a range of phenomena beyond conflict crowds, including behavior in emergencies and disasters and the psychology of mass gatherings. The practical adequacy of the social identity approach is demonstrated by its use in a number of applied fields, including “public order” policing, crowd and emergency management, mass gatherings, health, and pedestrian modeling.

Article

Social Gerontology Theories: Past, Present, and Future  

Jill Suitor, Megan Gilligan, Marissa Rurka, Yifei Hou, and Gulcin Con

Theories of social gerontology have progressed from a focus on individuals’ later-life decline to theories that emphasize the intra- and interindividual variability of later-life experiences and the ways in which such heterogeneity is conditioned by social structural, cultural, and interpersonal factors that often begin in childhood and continue to shape individuals and members of their social networks across the life course. Consistent with theories across the sciences, theories of social gerontology predict and explain real-world experiences. In the case of social gerontology, the goals of theory address a wide array of phenomena, ranging from individuals’ attitudes and motivations, social networks and social support, the actions and functions of formal organizations, the embodiment of cultural norms and stereotypes, social determinants of health, and sources of inequality throughout the life course.. As the field of social gerontology has developed, theories in the field have shown increasing complexity, particularly regarding the roles of early life course experiences, social structural positions, and interpersonal relations in explaining variations in well-being, longevity, and the quality of life across the lifespan. As part of this increased complexity, social gerontology has become increasingly cross-disciplinary, spanning disciplines such as sociology, psychology, biology, anthropology, public health, medicine, and engineering, with a strong emphasis on how each discipline can contribute to developing principles that transcend individual fields. These integrative theories of social gerontology are crucial to developing comprehensive approaches to improving the health and well-being of individuals throughout the life course. Theories of social gerontology help us comprehensively understand the aging process by emphasizing individual characteristics, social relationships, and the larger cultural contexts in which individuals’ lives are embedded.

Article

The Social Brain  

Halie Olson and Anila D'Mello

Humans are fundamentally social animals, and a large portion of the human brain is dedicated to social cognition—the set of mental functions and processes that scaffold our ability to observe, understand, and interact with others. While early philosophers and scientists relied on observation or isolated cases of brain damage to gain insight into social cognition, the advent of new technologies, including noninvasive neuroimaging, has opened a new window into the brain regions that support social cognition in humans, referred to as the social brain. These technologies have elucidated with new precision that individual brain regions are specialized for a variety of social functions including comprehending language, processing faces and emotions, anticipating what a social partner might do next, and even thinking about others’ thoughts. While the building blocks for the social brain are present from birth, individual regions continue to develop into adulthood and are shaped by experience.