Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-4wks4 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-04-02T01:07:29.929Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

9 - Social Neuroscience

from Section B - Cognitive and Social Neuroscience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

Robert J. Sternberg
Cornell University, New York
Susan T. Fiske
Princeton University, New Jersey
Donald J. Foss
University of Houston
Get access


Social species by definition create organizations and processes beyond the individual. These superorganismal structures and processes can differ across species, but typically evolved hand in hand with neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms because the consequent structures and behaviors helped these organisms survive, reproduce, and leave a genetic legacy. Humans, born to a long period of utter dependency and dependent on conspecifics across the lifespan to survive and prosper, are an ultra-social species. Attachment, attraction, attitudes, aggression, altruism, affiliation, attribution, conformity, contagion, cooperation, competition, communication, culture, and empathy are just a few behavioral processes that are fundamentally social.

I attended graduate school at Ohio State University, where I studied both social and biological approaches to behavior. When I proposed a dissertation that sought to bring these perspectives together to better understand the factors and mechanisms underlying social behavior, however, I received pushback from both sides. From the biological perspective, social factors were thought to be a recent evolutionary development, and therefore to have few (if any) implications for the basic development, structure, or function of the nervous system. And even if they did, the notion was that they were too complex to study effectively in our lifespan. From the social perspective, the twentieth century had seen two world wars, a great depression, generations of social injustice, and the development of nuclear warfare. Even if the brain and biology were relevant, the pushback was that it would take far too long to develop a sufficient understanding of the brain to contribute anything to our understanding of social processes or behavior, much less to the solution of the social ills that threatened society.

If not for the encouragement of my roommate – a fellow graduate student and now life-long friend, Richard Petty – to pursue my passion, my career might have taken a very different course. And if not for the good fortune of joining the faculty at Ohio State University in 1989 in both social psychology and biopsychology, and striking up a collaboration with yet another great friend and colleague, Gary Berntson, we likely would never have proposed the interdisciplinary field of social neuroscience with the goal of identifying the neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms underlying social structures and processes, and identifying the specific influences and pathways linking social and neural structures and processes.

Scientists Making a Difference
One Hundred Eminent Behavioral and Brain Scientists Talk about Their Most Important Contributions
, pp. 45 - 48
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Cacioppo, J. T., Amaral, D. G., Blanchard, J. J., Cameron, J. L., Carter, C. S., Crews, D., … & Quinn, K. J. (2007). Social neuroscience: Progress and implications for mental health. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 99–123.Google Scholar
Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., Capitanio, J. P., & Cole, S. W. (2015). The neuroendocrinology of social isolation. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 733–767.Google Scholar
Cacioppo, S., Capitanio, J. P., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2014). Toward a neurology of loneliness. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 1464–1504.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats