Research Topic

Brains, Genes, and the Foundations of Human Society

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The last 20 years have yielded an explosion of information from the still nascent field of social neuroscience. Studies devoted to identifying neural correlates of social cognitive and moral judgment processing have established subcortical and cortical regions that are integral for how we filter and interpret ...

The last 20 years have yielded an explosion of information from the still nascent field of social neuroscience. Studies devoted to identifying neural correlates of social cognitive and moral judgment processing have established subcortical and cortical regions that are integral for how we filter and interpret information pertinent to family and friends, our social in-group, and strangers and engage in everything from forming immediate impressions of them to judging their behavior with respect to complex moral norms. What is less clear is how neural regions involved in implicit and explicit cognitive processing, or those cognitive processes that occur almost instantaneously as opposed to those that are more controlled respectively, interact to bias perceptions and behavior. Even less is known about how genes (and their variants) critical for neural function and the structural integrity within neural regions may modulate neural interactions critical for social cognitive and moral judgment processing.
Recent methodological advancements assessing how different neural regions functionally work together with others, and how different genetic variants integral for neural function alter behavior, are establishing a more comprehensive view of the implicit and explicit social brain. These advancements demonstrate that structures critical for implicit processing, e.g., the amygdala, reliably covary in their activity with structures integral for explicit processing, e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, early and often during the processing of social information of varying complexity and in different contexts. This suggests that interactions between these regions are necessary to successfully navigate and immediately adapt to one’s environment. In turn, genetic variants like those that comprise the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene, oxytocin receptor gene, or serotonin transporter gene likely play an important role in modulating the interaction between and within neural regions integral for interpersonal trust, intergroup processes, person perception, theory of mind (i.e., inferring the thoughts and feelings of others), and moral judgment processing.
The purpose of this Research Topic is to further our understanding of how subcortical and cortical neural regions that vary in their functional contributions to social behavior also depend upon genetic influences in shaping individuals’ perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and how information is attended to and encoded to influence future social behaviors. It is particularly important to demonstrate how these regions reliably interact as a function of processing speed (i.e., implicit or explicit) and/or context to predict behavior or performance. Demonstrating how different genetic factors in turn moderate this interaction, or how genetic factors alter a specific region’s interaction with other regions, is equally important.
We therefore solicit original empirical work, review and opinion papers, and methodological papers that can promote our understanding of how interactions between neural regions underlying implicit and explicit processes influence social cognitive and moral judgment processing and are, in turn, modulated by genetic predispositions. This includes work that utilizes fMRI, EEG and psychophysiological methodologies, lesion samples, as well as developmental and computational approaches.
This Research Topic could serve as an important step in the evolution of our understanding of the complexity of the social mind as well as illuminate the robust effects context has on the way the brain interacts with different stimuli at every level of cognitive processing.


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