The Dartmouth Center for Social Brain Sciences involves scholars across campus who are examining the social, cognitive, and brain basis of the social mind. Through this research, we hope to achieve the following set of current goals.
Understanding the brain mechanisms that give rise to the human sense of self. Through the possession of a sense of self, people are able to provide order, coherence, and stability to their daily experiences. Center research considers the cognitive and neural operations that support self-representation and the functioning of the self-memory system. Recent research uses structural and functional neuroimaging to examine the brain mechanisms that give rise to the affective nature of self, as well as how self-representation differs across cultures.
Identifying the neural mechanisms that subserve the human capacity for self-regulation. Self-regulation requires a number of executive cognitive functions, such as inhibiting prepotent behavioral responses, transcending emotions, making decisions, allocating attention, and setting distal goals. Relatively little is known about the brain mechanisms that allow people to override their initial reactions to control their mental processes. A variety of research currently underway examines brain networks that support self-regulation as well as the neural mechanisms involved in self-regulation failure (i.e., diet failure, smoking, alcohol use, and addiction).
Understanding how interpersonal cues, such as emotional expression, gaze direction, and personal characteristics, influence person construal. The human face conveys important information that regulates social interactions, such as whether people are trustworthy, dangerous, or approachable. Researchers in social brain sciences use multiple methods for understanding how faces are perceived, including studying those who are deficient in this ability (i.e., those with prosopagnosia).
Identifying the neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in perceiving, identifying, and evaluating other humans, including members of one's own group as well as those from other groups. This includes understanding whether "people" are given privileged status by the brain as it processes objects in the environment as well as the cognitive processes involved in stereotyping and prejudice.
Understanding social theory of mind. The ability to predict behavior requires the capacity to perceive and understand others’ mental states. At the core, this involves appropriately attributing mind to objects in the environment. This research examines individual differences in social theory of mind, including motivational and cognitive differences that support interpersonal judgments.
Understanding how people perceive threats from their social worlds, such as how people interpret cues of interpersonal distress and how those threats affect cognitive and affective processes. Center researchers also examine the role of the amygdala in perceiving facial expressions of emotion and protecting people from the dangers of daily living. This includes examining those who have excessive fears and anxieties. More generally, research in social brain sciences examines the varieties of human emotional experiences and how they might be embodied in physical movement and sensory experience (i.e., music).