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The Neural Mechanisms of Social Vision

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Humans are social beings: interacting with each other is critical for our survival. However, successful social interaction requires that we understand each other’s actions and intentions. To this end, it is crucial that we can interpret social signals accurately. In the animal kingdom, there are numerous ...

Humans are social beings: interacting with each other is critical for our survival. However, successful social interaction requires that we understand each other’s actions and intentions. To this end, it is crucial that we can interpret social signals accurately. In the animal kingdom, there are numerous examples of the co-evolution of social signalling on the one hand, and sensory systems on the other hand. Indeed, in the recent literature there are numerous reports that the human visual system is particularly sensitive to social cues - for example facial emotional expressions and body language. There are numerous reports of the brain’s ability to process facial expressions and emotional body language without attention and awareness. To some extent, there may even be dedicated brain areas to process social signals, such as the fusiform face area, or the so-called social brain network. However, some recent findings suggest that some aspects of social perception may have their grounds in older, non-social brain networks: perception of social distance, for example, is mediated by the same cortical areas as spatial distance. There is even evidence that social-affective information may bias processing throughout the entire visual system: an observer’s mood, but even his or her religion may have a profound effect on the way that observer perceives the world. Happy people see happy faces better than sad people, and vice versa, and Calvinist Christians are more sensitive to overall gist of visual scenes than atheïsts.

All in all, it is clear that visual processing and social cognition may be much closer related that previously thought. The emerging field that studies this interaction is called social vision, and brings together scholars from sociology, social, evolutionary, clinical, and cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and neurophysiology. However, with such a broad field it is difficult to keep track of findings in all of these areas, all of which may be relevant to one’s work. Because of this, the field may miss out on an integrative perspective on social vision. How does the brain integrate social information into visual processing? To what extent do ‘normal’ and ‘social’ visual processing overlap? And may the social-cognitive deficits associated with conditions as schizophrenia and autism perhaps be explained by the perceptual deficits that accompany these disorders as well?

The goal of this Frontiers Research Topic is to provide a forum for researchers in social vision, with an emphasis on the neural mechanisms of social vision. We welcome researchers in the field to contribute review papers and original research to give a broad overview of the field, from social psychology to neurophysiology. Our aim is to have a Research Topic that allows researchers to discover new literature, meet new colleagues, and to engage in discussions, and, who knows, collaborations, to advance social vision to a truly integrated interdisciplinary field.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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