Monday, September 17, 2012

Decoding the invisible forces of social connections - Stephanie Cacioppo and John T. Cacioppo


This is an interesting article that recently appeared in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience.  Stephanie Cacioppo and John T. Cacioppo of the departments of psychology, University of Geneva and University of Chicago (respectively), sought to investigate the "neurophysiological mechanisms underlying sensorimotor mapping between interacting individuals"in the hope of creating a "multilevel integrative approach" that can provide a new tool "for investigating the brain networks responsible for understanding acute and chronic social disorders."

The authors looked at the interpersonal forces shaping the neural networks of individuals interacting but at a distance. While they propose the useful of this study for understanding social disorders, it also seems helpful in making sense of intersubjectivity at the neural level.

Decoding the invisible forces of social connections

Stephanie Cacioppo1* and John T. Cacioppo2
  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
By its 20th anniversary, social neuroscience has witnessed an incredible rise in the number of studies demonstrating the effects of perceived social isolation (e.g., loneliness, ostracism), and inversely, the beneficial effects of social bonding (e.g., love, desire, attachment) on social perception, cognition, and behavior and on mental and physical health. The current review underscores the importance of two factors in this literature: (1) where an individual falls along the continuum of isolation/bonding from feelings of rejection and neglect to feelings of strong, stable, trusted social bonds, and (2) whether gauging an individual's general feeling of social isolation/bonding or the specific feeling of isolation/bonding toward the person with whom the individual is interacting. Evidence shows that these factors are related to brain and cognition, including embodied social cognition—a system integrating past self-related actions from which simulation mechanisms can be used to access other people's minds and anticipate their actions. The neurophysiological mechanisms underlying sensorimotor mapping between interacting individuals offers an empirical opportunity to investigate the interpersonal forces that operate on individuals at a distance. This multilevel integrative approach provides a valuable tool for investigating the brain networks responsible for understanding acute and chronic social disorders.

Full Citation: 
Cacioppo S, and Cacioppo JT. (2012) Decoding the invisible forces of social connections. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience; 6:51. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00051

From the introduction:
Social species form organizations that extend beyond the individual. The goal of social neuroscience is to investigate the biological mechanisms that underlie these social structures, processes, and behavior and the influences between social and neural structures and processes (Cacioppo and Berntson, 1992; Cacioppo et al., 2000). The forces operating between individuals to create these superorganismal structures form connections that vary in strength and valence. Whether comparing different individuals at a given point in the lifespan or the same individuals across the lifespan, these social forces vary along a continuum of isolation/bonding from feelings of rejection and neglect to feelings of strong, stable social bonds.

Like the forces between chemical elements, the forces operating between individuals are difficult to observe directly but become visible through their effects on individuals. In the present article, we review some of the visible signs that one can use to identify where individuals fall along the continuum of perceived social isolation/bonding. The traditional way of determining where a person falls along the continuum of perceived social isolation to perceived social bonding is through the use of psychometrically validated questionnaires, such as the UCLA loneliness scale (Russell, 1996). One can also decode social bonds at a distance, for instance, by looking at a person's body language, but doing so involves a multitude of processes that are subject to various other influences. For this reason, validated questionnaires remain the most common and effective way of identifying a person's position on this isolation/bonding continuum. In this review, we focus on the effects on brain and cognition, including embodied cognitive operations such as sensorimotor perception, imitation/mimicry, and interpersonal synchrony. Embodiment here refers to the notion that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are grounded in sensory experiences and bodily states (for reviews see Semin and Smith, 2002; Niedenthal et al., 2005; Barsalou, 2008; Schubert and Semin, 2009; Meier et al., 2012). We begin by reviewing the effects of perceived social bonding/isolation on health.
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