Charting brain mechanisms for the development of social cognition

Kevin A. Pelphrey, Susan B. Perlman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Introduction In this chapter, we use the term “social cognition” to refer to the fundamental abilities to perceive, categorize, remember, analyze, reason with and behave toward other conspecifics (Adolphs, 2001; Nelson et al., 2005; Pelphrey et al., 2004). This definition is wide-ranging, so as to emphasize the multidisciplinary quality of work in this area. However, scientific disciplines vary in their emphasis on different aspects of this multifaceted construct. In social psychology, social cognition describes a range of phenomena including moral reasoning, attitude formation, stereotyping, and related topics (Kunda, 1999). In neuroscience, social cognition is defined more narrowly as the ability to perceive the intentions and dispositions of others (Brothers, 1990). In developmental psychology, the characterization of social cognition has focused most frequently upon the study of “theory of mind” (ToM), the awareness that other people have beliefs and desires different from our own and that behavior can be explained by reference to these beliefs and desires (Frith and Frith, 1999; Premack and Woodruff, 1978). Across disciplines, definitions of social cognition commonly link this construct to social behavior and include social perception (the initial stages of evaluating intentions and dispositions of others by analysis of gaze direction, body movement, and other types of biological motion), and attributional style (the way one tends to explain other people's behavior). Much of the neural circuitry thought to support social cognition consists of mechanisms that are relatively old in evolutionary terms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuroimaging in Developmental Clinical Neuroscience
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511757402
ISBN (Print)9780521883573
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

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