Department of Social Neuroscience

Foundations of Human Sociality & Neuroeconomics

One important part of our research programme is to identify the various routes underlying social cognition and emotions, i.e. our ability to understand others. Here, we are working towards a unifying model of social cognition.

Previous research in social neuroscience has identified at least three distinct networks for social cognition that are essential to our ability to understand others, the mirror neuron system, the mentalizing system, and our ability to empathize. On the one hand, these different routes of social cognition seem to rely on different brain networks, but on the other hand, there are common mechanisms in our brain which enable an experience of intersubjectivity.

In the last few years, we have expanded these “shared network” models of social cognition to also explain how such simple projection mechanisms can sometimes lead to non-adaptive “empathic distress” when exposed to the strong suffering of another. Alternatively, it can lead to emotional egocentricity bias if one fails to engage in clear self-other distinction, especially in situations where states of oneself are incongruent to another person’s states. Recently, we have developed new paradigms to study the interaction between different routes of social cognition as well as to understand the commonalities and differences between social emotions such as emotion contagion, empathy, and compassion.

Finally, the department has once again begun to focus on neuroeconomics. The main question here focuses on how social cognition and motivations can explain human social interaction and human economic decision making. The new research programme, funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) in cooperation with Professor Dennis Snower, president of the Kiel Institute of World Economy, explores new avenues of how psychological and neuroscientific knowledge about human motivation, emotion, and social cognition can inform models of economic decision making in addressing global economic problems.

We seek to create a new generation of economic models that allow for more cooperative, prosocial, and sustainable economic behaviors to provide a new vision of "caring economics".

Selected Publications:

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