The Social Brain: Evolution and Pathology

The Social Brain: Evolution and Pathology

The Social Brain: Evolution and Pathology

The Social Brain: Evolution and Pathology

Synopsis

The human brain is, without doubt, the most complex organ ever evolved. But why did our ancestors grow such large and energetically "expensive" brains? Recent studies suggest that many brain functions evolved in primates and early humans due to the necessity to cope with an increasingly complex social environment. This ability, the so-called "social brain," confers advantages. For example, social cleverness and aptitude enhance an individual's chances of social success. "Behaviour reading," of facial expressions, gestures and vocalisations, allows us to anticipate or foresee how others might respond or act which has obvious advantages. In addition, apes and humans evolved the cognitive capacity of reading other's minds, commonly referred to as having a "theory of mind". Despite their advantages, such complex brain functions also have disadvantages. For example, it takes years or - in the case of human beings - a decade or more to acquire all the social knowledge, strategies, and rules indispensable for effectively managing social demands. Moreover, there are a number of psychiatric disorders in which the ontogenetic development, the correct application, o r the preservation of social cognitive capacities during an individual's lifetime have gone "awry". Autism, ADHD, focal damage in certain brain regions, endogenous psychoses, personality disorders, and dementia, share the common feature of compromised social functioning in the affected individual. This book provides a concise overview of the evolution, development, and pathology of the human social brain and explores the psychiatric disorders that can result when that social brain is impaired. Integrates several key disciplines involved in the understanding of the human brain, how it evolved, its role in social interaction and psychiatric disorders. Appeals across a range of disciplines from psychiatry and neuropsychiatry to basic neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Brings together the latest research from eminent international rese

Excerpt

The idea of compiling this volume has many fathers. Coming from different fields—psychiatry, psychology and human ethology—yet united in an evolutionary view on human perception, emotion, cognition and behaviour, we had planned and convened the international conference, The Social Brain—Evolution and Pathology'. Our aim was to open a forum facilitating communication and exchange between a number of disciplines concerned with the function and dysfunction of the very crucial human capacity of successfully interacting with conspecifics. The conference was held at the Centre of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Bochum, in late autumn 2000 and was dedicated to one of the pioneers of evolutionary psychiatry, Detlev Ploog, on the occasion of his 80th birthday in November 2000. Since the 1950s, probably influenced by his teacher Ernst Kretschmer, Detlev Ploog had conducted numerous experiments on the social behaviour of non-human primates at the Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry in Munich. He was clearly among the first psychiatrists who recognised the enormous impact of social interactions for the functioning of the human psyche. Moreover, he is probably the only German scholar who contributed chapters on ethology and evolutionary psychopathology to the multiple volume, Contemporary Psychiatry (originally published in German as Psychiatrie der Gegenwarf) 35 years apart.

The label 'the social brain' characterises an essential part of our evolutionary history, because it is very likely that our being animaux sociale has shaped our emotional and cognitive brain mechanisms in very decisive ways.

Interestingly, researchers have neglected the significance of social aspects of cognition in non-human primates and humans for a long time. The traditional position was based, for example, on Wolfgang Kohler's famous experimental studies on tool use by great apes and assumed that the superior cognitive performance in humans was due to the demands of 'technological' processes, such as tool making and the solving of 'physical' problems. During the past decades, however, scientists such as Alison Jolly, Nicholas Humphrey, Richard . . .

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