Psychology Social Neuroscience
by
Greg Norman, Gary Berntson, John Cacioppo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 June 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0056

Introduction

The field of social neuroscience seeks to understand the relationship between social behavior and the physiological and neurobiological substrates that underlies its existence. Importantly, the objective of such an approach represents more than the simple correlation of variables operating across individual levels of analysis. Indeed, social neuroscience is concerned with the understanding of the dynamic signaling mechanisms, be they social or neurobiological, that allow for the reciprocal interaction between levels of analysis. The emergent structures created by the collective behavior of social species, and threats to their integrity, are capable of influencing a broad range of neurobiological and physiological processes. Indeed, various psychological, behavioral, and biological processes are locked into reciprocal causal loops such that activity at any one level (e.g., infection) is able to reverberate across all levels (e.g., behavioral level: decreased social interaction; molecular level: elevated cytokine gene expression) that are themselves capable of feeding back into the system where the initial event occurred (e.g., increased energy stores by avoiding social threats and heightened activity of immune cells via cytokine secretion). Thus, a comprehensive scientific understanding of any species embedded within such a dynamic social–biological circuit necessitates a multilevel integrative perspective. The initial section of this bibliography introduces General Overviews, handbooks, and reference works detailing the broad structure of social neuroscience. The remaining sections provide examples from some of the component disciplines that constitute social neuroscience. We conclude the bibliography with coverage of some of the contemporary debates in the field.

General Overviews

The broad interdisciplinary nature of social neuroscientific research can at times be overwhelming. Each discipline has its own theoretical constructs and methodologies and this can make the integration of knowledge difficult. Therefore, before exploring the specifics of each subdiscipline, the reader must gain some perspective on the types of questions asked in social neuroscience and how such questions can be answered. The references listed below include review papers as well as edited handbooks that will provide the reader with ideas of the inner workings of the field. Adolphs 2009 provides a broad and informative overview of the neurobiological substrates thought to mediate the processing of social information. The review in Cacioppo and Berntson 1992 is the first text in which the term “social neuroscience” is used and articulates a doctrine of multilevel analysis and provides a foundation for the field. Berntson and Cacioppo 2009 (cited under Textbooks) is composed of numerous chapters in disciplines ranging from genetics to psychology and is ideal for individuals who want to get an understanding of the broad range of theories and methodological practices of social neuroscience. Cacioppo, et al. 2006 is a recent handbook of social neuroscience. It is a more focused analysis of contemporary social neuroscience with an emphasis on social cognitive processes underlying social interaction. Harmon-Jones and Beer 2009 provides a nice introduction to the methodology most commonly used in contemporary social neuroscience. Finally, Todorov, et al. 2011 is a helpful source of information on the latest research on the representation of social groups and the interplay between cognitive and affective processes associated with social encounters.

  • Adolphs, R. 2009. The social brain: Neural basis of social knowledge. Annual Review of Psychology 60:693–716.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163514Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive review on the topic of social information processes.

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    • Cacioppo, J. T., and G. G. Berntson. 1992. Social psychological contributions to the decade of the brain: Doctrine of multilevel analysis. American Psychologist 47:1019–1028.

      DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.47.8.1019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Outlines the basic tenets of multilevel analysis and where the term social neuroscience was first mentioned.

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      • Cacioppo, J. T., G. G. Berntson, R. Adolphs, et al. 2002. Foundations in social neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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        A large and rich source of information on the field of social neuroscience with a nice blend of human and animal model chapters.

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        • Cacioppo, J. T., P. S. Visser, and C. L. Pickett. 2006. Social neuroscience: People thinking about thinking people. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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          A helpful source of information on the field of social neuroscience with multiple chapters authored by leaders of the field.

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          • Harmon-Jones, E., and J. S. Beer. 2009. Methods in social neuroscience. New York: Guilford.

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            A more traditional textbook that details the broad range of methodology used in social neuroscience.

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            • Todorov, A., S. Fiske, and D. Prentice. 2011. Social neuroscience: Toward understanding the underpinnings of the social mind. Oxford Series in Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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              A helpful source of information on the field of social neuroscience.

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              Textbooks

              Very few traditional textbooks exist that explicitly cover the topic of social neuroscience. However, there are numerous edited volumes that provide a great overview of the field and we have listed some of them below. Furthermore, given the broad scope of social neuroscience, we direct the reader to textbooks covering the disciplines that comprise the field.

              Social Neuroscience

              There are many handbooks that provide advanced and introductory readers with an appropriate selection of psychological and neuroscientific perspectives on the field of social neuroscience. Cacioppo and Berntson 2005 includes various chapters that cover the foundation of social neuroscience and would be appropriate for introductory graduate or advanced undergraduate students. Decety and Cacioppo 2011 is another edited volume that will provide readers with an overall description of the most pressing issues in the field and would be ideal for graduate students or faculty who wish to gain a more in-depth understanding of the problems of the field.

              • Cacioppo, J. T., and G. G. Berntson. 2005. Social neuroscience. New York: Psychology Press.

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                A comprehensive book that provides a thorough analysis of social neuroscience work on both animals and humans.

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                • Decety, J., and J. T. Cacioppo. 2011. The Oxford handbook of social neuroscience. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                  Another helpful source of information on the current state of research in the field.

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                  Behavioral Neuroscience

                  A great deal of overlap clearly exists between the fields of social neuroscience and behavioral neuroscience and there are many helpful texts that help elucidate this relationship. We direct readers to two primary texts that provide a sense of the breadth and general scope of contemporary behavioral neuroscience. The Berntson and Cacioppo 2009 handbook is a two-volume series that details the new biological bases, research tools, and implications of brain and gene research as it relates to psychology. Breedlove, et al. 2010 is an accessible introductory textbook that will provide a reader with a strong foundation of knowledge on the mind, brain, and behavior.

                  • Berntson, G. G., and J. T. Cacioppo. 2009. Handbook of neuroscience for the behavioral sciences. 2 vols. New York: Wiley.

                    DOI: 10.1002/9780470478509Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    A rich source of information on nearly all modern research approaches to the study of brain and behavior.

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                    • Breedlove, S. M., N. V. Watson, and M. R. Rosenzweig. 2010. Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience. 6th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

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                      The most recent edition of one of the most popular introductory behavioral neuroscience textbooks.

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                      Social Psychology

                      Aronson, et al. 2009 is a widely used text written by some of the most prestigious scientists in the field. This book is designed for use in advanced undergraduate and introductory graduate social psychology courses. This textbook does a nice job of applying real-world examples of social psychological research and provides readers with an understanding of the classic research that laid the foundation for the modern field. Taylor, et al. 2005 is another staple of advanced social psychology courses, and this text provides an appropriate balance of the methods and applications of contemporary social psychology.

                      Behavioral Neuroendocrinology

                      Becker, et al. 2008 provides a nice introduction to hormones and how they influence physiology and behavior in animals and humans. Nelson 2011 is a popular text that provides an appropriate balance of historical background and cutting edge contemporary research. The book is organized around the three “components” including input mechanisms (e.g., perception), central processing mechanisms (central nervous system) and output mechanisms (e.g., behavior). The book is accessible to students without a background in biology and is appropriate for advanced undergraduate and introductory graduate courses.

                      • Becker, J. B., S. M. Breedlove, D. Crews, and M. M. McCarthy. 2008. Behavioral endocrinology. 2d ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                        A popular textbook that does a great job of providing introductory readers with a basic understanding of the contemporary study of hormones and behavior.

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                        • Nelson, R. J. 2011. An introduction to behavioral endocrinology. 4th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

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                          Another popular textbook written by one of the more prominent behavioral neuroendocrinologists.

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                          Neuroimaging

                          Huettel, et al. 2009 provides a nice introduction to the methodology common to experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Appropriate for advances undergraduate or graduate students, the newest edition covers the growing practice of integrating fMRI with other neuroscience techniques. Although Papanicolaou 1998 is a slightly dated text, it remains one of the more accessible resources on the topic and provides an introductory audience with the necessary information to be able to understand basic neuroimaging techniques and their relation to psychology and psychiatry. Appropriate for undergraduate courses or graduate students who wish to gain a basic understanding of the field.

                          • Huettel, S. A., A. W. Song, and G. McCarthy. 2009. Functional magnetic resonance imaging. 2d ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

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                            Provides a cogent account of the methodology and applications of contemporary neuroimaging studies.

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                            • Papanicolaou, A. C. 1998. Fundamentals of functional brain imaging: A guide to the methods and their applications to psychology and behavioral neuroscience. London: Psychology Press.

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                              One of the more influential textbooks on the topic of neuroimaging and its methodological foundations.

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                              Psychophysiology

                              Andreassi 2006 is well suited to advanced undergraduate students wishing to gain a strong foundation in the field. This book provides an introduction to general anatomy and physiology of biological systems and the techniques used to measure them. Cacioppo, et al. 2007 is a helpful reference for advanced graduate students and faculty studying psychophysiology or related fields. This book covers a broad range of methodologies including imaging; electrophysiology; and the interactions among immune, endocrine, and nervous systems.

                              • Andreassi, J. L. 2006. Psychophysiology: Human behavior and physiological response. 5th ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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                                A helpful resource to students wishing to gain a basic understanding of modern psychophysiology research and its inner workings.

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                                • Cacioppo, J. T., L. G. Tassinary, and G. G. Berntson. 2007. Handbook of psychophysiology. 3d ed. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                  An authoritative collection of chapters from leading psychophysiologists.

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                                  Journals

                                  Given the interdisciplinary nature of social neuroscience, the field publishes in a wide range of leading journals ranging from genetics to social psychology. The journals listed here, however, often contain some of the most influential works in the field. Articles published in Social Neuroscience cover many neuroscience techniques relevant to the field including neuroimaging methods, as well as more traditional neuroscience techniques (e.g., animal studies, psychiatric populations). Similar to Social Neuroscience, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience publishes human and animal model research that uses neuroscience techniques to understand the social and emotional aspects of the human mind and human behavior. Psychological Science is a leading empirical journal in psychology that publishes empirical research in all the fields of psychology. Articles published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cover topics relating to personality and social psychology that often have implications for the field of social neuroscience. The final two journals listed, The Journal of Neuroscience and Nature Neuroscience, are leading journals in the field of neuroscience that often publish highly influential human and animal model research that directly relates to the field of social neuroscience.

                                  Empathy

                                  The ability to understand and share another individual’s feeling is central to our ability to communicate effectively and has been a focus of speculation in philosophical and psychological investigations throughout written history. The scientific understanding of empathy has blossomed into a vibrant and multidisciplinary field of study, which includes cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and the neurosciences. The papers described below each provide a unique perspective of contemporary views on empathy and how this process relates to brain function. Decety and Jackson 2004 proposes a theory of empathy that involves distributed and dissociable computational neural mechanisms that operate in parallel to create shared neural representations and self-awareness. The review paper Iacoboni 2005 describes the neural circuits underlying empathy and imitation with a particular emphasis on mirror neurons and the role they may play in these processes. This chapter also details the flexibility of this system and how it can be used in other forms of human communication. Finally, Jackson, et al. 2006 puts forth the notion that the perception of pain in others depends upon the activation of neural circuits typically associated with pain in one’s self.

                                  • Decety, J., and P. L. Jackson. 2004. The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Review 3:71–100.

                                    DOI: 10.1177/1534582304267187Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    This review provides evidence that the empathy arises from distributed and partially independent neurobiological substrates.

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                                    • Iacoboni, M. 2005. Understanding others: Imitation, language, empathy. In Perspectives on imitation: From cognitive neuroscience to social science. 2 vols. Edited by S. Hurley and N. Chater. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                      Details the neurobiological substrates that may mediate empathy and provides evidence that the mirror neuron system may be involved in empathetic responses.

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                                      • Jackson, P. L., P. Rainville, and J. Decety. 2006. To what extent do we share the pain of others? Insight from the neural bases of pain empathy. Pain 125:5–9.

                                        DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2006.09.013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Reviews the potential neurobiological substrates mediating empathy in response to observing others in pain.

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                                        Social Isolation and Health

                                        Humans are highly social creatures. Our relationship with others serves as the primary source of our most rewarding and aversive encounters. The perception that an individual’s social relationships are inadequate tends to bring about a broad range of motivational processes aimed at restoring one’s standing with others. This type of compensatory response can be helpful in the short term but if it becomes chronic it can dramatically increase morbidity and mortality. The articles listed below provide the reader with a broad understanding of the cognitive and physiological repercussions of social isolation and suggest potential mechanisms that allow perceived social isolation to be one of the most important cardiovascular disease risk factors. The Cacioppo and Patrick 2008 book on the topic of loneliness presents a scientific perspective on the physical and emotional impact of loneliness and the potential evolutionary processes that have led to the development of a brain that finds social isolation remarkably aversive. Holt-Lunstad, et al. 2010 is a meta-analysis that provides convincing evidence that our social relationships can directly influence mortality. The primary finding of this article was that the quality of one’s social relationships has at least as much of an influence on mortality as more widely known risk factors such as obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking. Finally, Patterson and Veenstra 2010 focuses primarily on the effects of loneliness on mortality and finds that chronically lonely individuals are more than two times more likely to die from ailments of the circulatory system.

                                        • Cacioppo, J. T., and W. P. Patrick. 2008. Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social connection. New York: Norton.

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                                          A book that details the evolutionary and neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the human need to belong to a social group.

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                                          • Holt-Lunstad, J., T. B. Smith, and J. B. Layton. 2010. Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine 7.7: 223–229

                                            DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Reviews evidence that dissatisfaction with one’s social relationships has rather dramatic influences on mortality rates.

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                                            • Patterson, A. C., and G. Veenstra. 2010. Loneliness and risk of mortality: A longitudinal investigation in Alameda County, California. Social Science & Medicine 71.1: 181–186.

                                              DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.024Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Reviews evidence that social isolation is a risk factor on par with more well known risk factors such as smoking and obesity.

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                                              Social Rejection

                                              Similar to perceived social isolation, social rejection has a profound influence over various psychological and neurobiological processes. Specifically, being excluded, ignored, or rejected signals a threat that results in feelings of pain, anger, and distress that shape future behaviors. When the rejection becomes chronic it can result in feelings of depression and helplessness. The three articles listed here will provide the reader with an understanding of the potential evolutionary mechanisms underlying social threat detection as well as the neurobiological substrates thought to mediate the psychological response to rejection and how these processes change across the life-span. Baumeister and DeWall 2005 provides a nice overview of “the need to belong” to a social group and the psychological repercussions of this need being blocked by social rejection. Hawkley, et al. 2011 details the effects of social rejection across the life-span with a particular emphasis on how such responses change with age. Lieberman and Eisenberger 2006 provides evidence that the aversive properties of social rejection operate through the activation of the neurobiological systems underlying the emotional aspects of physical pain.

                                              • Baumeister, R., and N. DeWall. 2005. The inner dimension of social exclusion: Intelligent thought and self-regulation among rejected persons. In The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying. Edited by K. D. Williams, J. P. F, and W. von Hippel, 53–76. New York: Psychology Press.

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                                                A review of psychological mechanisms underlying the uniquely aversive qualities associated with social rejection.

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                                                • Hawkley, L.C., K. D. Williams, and J. T. Cacioppo, 2011. Responses to ostracism across adulthood. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 6.2: 234–243.

                                                  DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq045Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Discusses age-related changes in the sensitivity to social rejection.

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                                                  • Lieberman, M. D., and N. I. Eisenberger. 2006. A pain by any other name (rejection, exclusion, ostracism) still hurts the same: The role of dorsal anterior cingulated cortex in social and physical pain. In Social neuroscience: People thinking about thinking people. Edited by J. T. Cacioppo, P. S. Visser, and C. L. Pickett, 167–187. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                    This chapter reviews the literature that suggests the aversive qualities of social exclusion are mediated by the same brain structures responsible for processing physical pain.

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                                                    Social Cognition

                                                    Social cognition generally refers to the encoding, storage, retrieval, and manipulation of social information. Many have suggested that the computational demands of having to account for an increasingly complex social network has been a primary force in the evolutionary development of humans’ relatively large neocortex. Understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that allow for social cognition has been one of the most active research topics in the field of social neuroscience. The included articles will provide readers with a broad overview of the current state of research on the neurobiology of social cognition. Adolphs 2001 is a very helpful review paper that provides detailed information on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying social cognition as determined by lesion and imaging studies. We also direct readers to the influential review paper Amodio and Frith 2006 that proposes a model of medial frontal cortex functioning and how this anatomical region relates to distinct aspects of social cognition. Cacioppo and Hawkley 2009 examines social cognition within the context of social isolation. This review paper discusses how the perception of social isolation can influence social cognitive processes including executive function and elevated sensitivity to social threats.

                                                    The Self

                                                    The sense of a self that transcends across time and space is a central feature of being human. However, understanding exactly what the self is and how it may apply to brain sciences has been a focus of philosophers, politicians, and scientists throughout recorded history. The emergence of social neuroscience has led to many important insights into how the brain represents the self and others. The articles listed below provide an overview of the current state of research into the neurobiological correlates of the self and how this research has modified the scientific view of the self. As before, we direct readers to three references. First, Decety and Sommerville 2003 discusses the similarities and differences between self versus other identification and reviews the literature on the potential neurobiological substrates mediating this distinction. Heatherton, et al. 2004 provides a nice description of how recent technological advancements have changed the way we characterize the self. It also gives a helpful description of how the application of this technology can address long-standing debates regarding self-related processes. The final reference, a meta-analysis from Northoff, et al. 2006, incorporates data from numerous neuroimaging studies exploring the potential neurobiological substrates of the self and self-related processes.

                                                    Evaluative Processes

                                                    Evaluative processes refer to the most basic categorization of environmental stimuli. Our emotional world is composed of an interconnected web of people, objects, and events that each carry potentially critical information for not only our ability to survive, but also thrive. The complex and dynamic nature of this emotional world, combined with the survival value inherent in many of the stimuli encounters in its reaches, demands the capability of responding both quickly and flexibly when determining whether a stimulus is hostile, hospitable, or has features of both. The affect system has evolved to efficiently and effectively promote adaptive responses to stimuli, and to produce an astonishing range of emotional experience and expression. Discriminating hostile from hospitable stimuli is so fundamental to and important for mammalian survival that this behavioral organization can be found at multiple levels of the neuraxis, ranging from the spinal cord to the neocortex. The three articles included below will provide readers with an understanding of the current status of research on the neurobiology of evaluative processes. Berntson, et al. 2009 is a chapter that details the neural organizational structures that mediate the basic evaluation of environmental stimuli and how knowledge of this organization can provide insight into basic neuropsychological processes. Cunningham and Zelazo 2007 is a review paper that details an “iterative reprocessing model” of evaluative processes that includes the processing and reprocessing of information across distinct temporal and anatomical levels of processing. Finally, we direct readers to Ito and Bartholow 2009. This review is a more focused analysis of evaluative processes with a particular emphasis on the neurobiological coding of race.

                                                    • Berntson, G. G., G. J. Norman, and J. T. Cacioppo. 2009. Evaluative processes. In Handbook of neuroscience for the behavioral sciences. Edited by G. G. Berntson and J. T. Cacioppo. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

                                                      DOI: 10.1002/9780470478509Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      This chapter discusses evaluative processes at levels of analysis ranging from the spinal cord to the neocortex.

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                                                      • Cunningham, W. A., and P. D. Zelazo. 2007. Attitudes and evaluations: A social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11:97–104.

                                                        DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.12.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Cunningham and Zelazo propose a theory termed the iterative reprocessing model. This model suggests that evaluative processes are the result of reciprocal interactions between limbic and cortical.

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                                                        • Ito, T. A., and B. D. Bartholow. 2009. The neural correlates of race. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13:524–531.

                                                          DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.10.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          A more focused analysis of evaluative processes that details the psychological and neurobiological brain regions associated with the processing of information regarding race.

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                                                          Psychopathology

                                                          In this final section we cover three articles that provide insight into the contributions that social neuroscience has had on the basic understanding of psychopathologies that present social dysfunction as a main symptom. The interdisciplinary nature of social neuroscience has been instrumental in the development of modern theories of the neurobiological and psychological processes underlying mental illness. We begin with a highly influential review article written by two of the leading voices in autism research: Baron-Cohen and Belmonte 2005. This review details the current status of research on autism and its associated neurobiological correlates. Second, we direct readers to a paper from Cacioppo, et al. 2007 that provides a broad review of the field of social neuroscience and how information obtained from this multilevel approach may relate to a more complete understanding of mental health issues including depression and anxiety. Davidson, et al. 2002 is a review that provides a description of the neurobiological substrates that are thought to underlie depression.

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