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Dissecting the social brain through development, psychopathology, and plasticity.


Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Singer, T. (2017). Dissecting the social brain through development, psychopathology, and plasticity. Talk presented at 59th Conference of Experimental Psychologists (Tagung experimentell arbeitender Psychologen; TeaP). Dresden, Germany. 2017-03-26 - 2017-03-29.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A2AE-1
The relatively new field of Social Neuroscience investigates how people understand and relate to each other. Thus far, at least two different routes on the understanding of others have been described: an affective-motivational route referring to our ability to feel with (empathy) and for (compassion) another person, and a more cognitive route allowing to infer other people's intentions, believes, and thoughts. The latter is also called Theory of Mind, mentalizing or cognitive perspective taking. Furthermore, people tend when projecting their own cognitive or affective states onto others during mentalizing or empathizing processes to judge the states of other people egocentrically, assuming that others will feel or think similar to them. Such cognitive or emotional egocentricity bias (EEB) occurs frequently in situations when others feel or think very differently to oneself. During my presentation I will introduce and define the above-mentioned concepts and describe different neuronal routes underlying socio-affective (e.g., empathy and compassion) versus socio-cognitive processes (e.g., Theory of Mind) as well as our ability to overcome emotional versus cognitive egocentricity bias. Further, I will show how these two routes of social understanding develop during ontogeny and can dissociate in psychopathology such as autism. During the second part of my talk, I will present evidence for plasticity of the social brain based on the ReSource projct, a large-scale interdisciplinary one-year mental training project that aims at the cultivation of 1) attention and interoceptive awareness, 2) meta-cognition and perspective taking on self and others, and 3) empathy, compassion and prosocial motivation by means of three distinct training modules in more than 200 training subjects. I will present first training-module specific findings suggesting malleability of the social brain on the level of behavioral markers of attention, compassion and theory of mind, functional and structural brain plasticity, prosocial behavior and stress reduction and discuss their relevance for models of social cognition and society.