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The social brain?

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      The notion that there is a ‘social brain’ in humans specialized for social interactions has received considerable support from brain imaging and, to a lesser extent, from lesion studies. Specific roles for the various components of the social brain are beginning to emerge. For example, the amygdala attaches emotional value to faces, enabling us to recognize expressions such as fear and trustworthiness, while the posterior superior temporal sulcus predicts the end point of the complex trajectories created when agents act upon the world. It has proved more difficult to assign a role to medial prefrontal cortex, which is consistently activated when people think about mental states. I suggest that this region may have a special role in the second-order representations needed for communicative acts when we have to represent someone else's representation of our own mental state. These cognitive processes are not specifically social, since they can be applied in other domains. However, these cognitive processes have been driven to ever higher levels of sophistication by the complexities of social interaction.

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      The mirror-neuron system.

      A category of stimuli of great importance for primates, humans in particular, is that formed by actions done by other individuals. If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others. Furthermore, without action understanding, social organization is impossible. In the case of humans, there is another faculty that depends on the observation of others' actions: imitation learning. Unlike most species, we are able to learn by imitation, and this faculty is at the basis of human culture. In this review we present data on a neurophysiological mechanism--the mirror-neuron mechanism--that appears to play a fundamental role in both action understanding and imitation. We describe first the functional properties of mirror neurons in monkeys. We review next the characteristics of the mirror-neuron system in humans. We stress, in particular, those properties specific to the human mirror-neuron system that might explain the human capacity to learn by imitation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between the mirror-neuron system and language.
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        Emotion circuits in the brain.

         J Ledoux (1999)
        The field of neuroscience has, after a long period of looking the other way, again embraced emotion as an important research area. Much of the progress has come from studies of fear, and especially fear conditioning. This work has pinpointed the amygdala as an important component of the system involved in the acquisition, storage, and expression of fear memory and has elucidated in detail how stimuli enter, travel through, and exit the amygdala. Some progress has also been made in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie fear conditioning, and recent studies have also shown that the findings from experimental animals apply to the human brain. It is important to remember why this work on emotion succeeded where past efforts failed. It focused on a psychologically well-defined aspect of emotion, avoided vague and poorly defined concepts such as "affect," "hedonic tone," or "emotional feelings," and used a simple and straightforward experimental approach. With so much research being done in this area today, it is important that the mistakes of the past not be made again. It is also time to expand from this foundation into broader aspects of mind and behavior.
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          Meeting of minds: the medial frontal cortex and social cognition.

          Social interaction is a cornerstone of human life, yet the neural mechanisms underlying social cognition are poorly understood. Recently, research that integrates approaches from neuroscience and social psychology has begun to shed light on these processes, and converging evidence from neuroimaging studies suggests a unique role for the medial frontal cortex. We review the emerging literature that relates social cognition to the medial frontal cortex and, on the basis of anatomical and functional characteristics of this brain region, propose a theoretical model of medial frontal cortical function relevant to different aspects of social cognitive processing.

            Author and article information

            simpleWellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, Institute of Neurology, University College London 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK
            Author notes
            [* ]Author for correspondence ( cfrith@ )
            Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
            Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
            The Royal Society (London )
            24 January 2007
            29 April 2007
            : 362
            : 1480
            : 671-678
            Copyright © 2007 The Royal Society

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Research Article

            Philosophy of science

            perspective taking, social brain, second-order representations


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