What is our fundamental social nature?

As a social species, humans create emergent organizations beyond the individual—structures that range from dyads, families, and groups to cities, civilizations, and international alliances. These emergent structures evolved hand in hand with neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms to support them because the consequent social behaviors helped humans survive and reproduce. Social neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field proposed by John Cacioppo and Gary Berntson in 1992 that focuses on the neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms underlying the social structures, processes, and behaviors that define social species. Social neuroscience is characterized by an integration of animal models, patient studies, and studies of healthy humans as well as multiple methods across levels of organization. The accepted metaphor in cognitive neuroscience is the brain as a computer, whereas the metaphor John Cacioppo proposed for social neuroscience is the brain as a mobile information processing device designed for connection at a distance to and interaction with other similar computing devices.


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Other Big Questions

How do people distinguish between hostile and hospitable stimuli and events?

This is the most basic information processing operation performed by the central nervous system, often with synergistic effects, but occasionally with antagonistic effects. At the lowest level of the central nervous system, this operation is fixed and is called a reflex. At the highest level, this operation is malleable and includes preferences, beliefs, opinions, and attitudes.

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How do we know what we know?

How can we infer the psychological significance from physiological signals? More generally, how can we infer the conceptual significance of empirical data? These basic questions are special cases of the bigger question of how we know what we (think we) know?

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How does stress damage our bodies?

A stressor refers to a stimulus and event to which a person is subjected, whereas stress refers to the person’s appraisal of that stimulus or event. The person’s brain is the central organ for this appraisal, and the nature of this appraisal can influence, and be influenced by, a person’s body and biology.

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What is verbal persuasion?

Across most of human history, physical coercion served as the dominant method for achieving social influence. Only recently has verbal persuasion, a requisite process for democratic governance, emerged as the dominant method of social influence. Understanding how attitudes are formed and changed, and understanding how these attitudes impact behavior, contribute to our ability to ensure persuasion is used to benefit rather than exploit humankind.

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