Psychology Social Neuroscience
Greg Norman, Gary Berntson, John Cacioppo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0056


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.60.110707.163514

    A comprehensive review on the topic of social information processes.

  • 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.47.8.1019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

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

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