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Applied Social Neuroscience

In understanding Applied Social Neuroscience (ASN), a specialized outgrowth of social neuroscience, it is necessary to briefly define social neuroscience. Social neuroscience was developed as a discrete field of study directed toward the investigation of the neurophysiological mechanisms that underlie social processes and behavior in response to the generally held view that defining the neurophysiological correlates of observed social processes and behavior is one of the most critical problems confronting the fields of neuroscience and mental health in the 21st century (Cacioppo and Berntson 1992; Cacioppo and Amaral et al. 2007; Cacioppo and Decety 2011).


Social neuroscience first emerged out of the paper Social psychological contributions to the decade of the brain: Doctrine of multilevel analysis by John Cacioppo and Gary Berntson published 1992 in American Psychologist. From the orientation of study in this paper, and from subsequent studies by Cacioppo and Berntson and collaborators and a growing number of new researchers contributing to the field, social neuroscience emerged as an interdisciplinary endeavor concentrating on understanding how neurophysiology affects observed social processes and behavior and how neurophysiological processes may inform theories and concepts of social processes and behavior.


Social neuroscience has, as its major conceptual framework, the argument that humans are inherently a social species, and, as inherently social beings, all learning about the environment in which humankind live -- all knowledge and understanding -- is constructed through emergent organizational social structures; these structures defined by specific rules of conduct and engagement, constructs of meaning, and prevailing frames of reference in such organizational entities as family, dyad, group, city, civilization, culture, etc. The question social neuroscience seeks to answer is through what neurophysiological processes and mechanisms are these organizational structures, concepts, processes of learning, and behavioral cues forged and maintained?


The distinction between social neuroscience and ASN is that ASN is not content with simply pontificating on new findings and perspectives from the synthesization of studies from social psychology and neuroscience, but rather is concerned with directly applying a constellation of understanding to help both children and adults suffering from serious behavioral disorganization, from cognitive disability and from the failures of the modern mass-education system. ASN integrates extensive research in cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, paleoanthropology, psychological anthropology, cultural anthropology, neuroanthropology, educational psychology, developmental psychology, positive psychology, clinical psychology and psychopathology, educational neuroscience and the pedagogical disciplines to define the mechanisms in the human brain and the mind through which learning, cognition and behavior are formulated, developing principles that may be applied to the optimization of learning outcomes in children and adults and to the remediation of and recovery from a broad range of behavioral and cognitive disorder.


In the development of rigorous, critically evaluated principles that may be applied to effectively optimize learning realization and correct and prevent cognitive and behavioral dysfunction, it is first necessary to define human behavior by the antecedents from which it evolved. Cognition and many other aspects of human behavior are elusive in that they are abstractions of the reasoning and interpretation processes of the mind rather than exclusively representations of absolute, bounded objectifications or constructs of the individual components of a discrete universal reality. The meaning of behavior that we are seeking to define is uniquely created in each individual’s own mind and inaccessible to intersubjective examination and verification, presenting an ineluctable tautology; therefore, rather than defining human behavior itself, we are more concretely informed by an understanding of the antecedents of human behavior. If we can understand the antecedents of human cognition and behavior then we can understand the mechanisms by which negative or dysfunctional behavior and cognition are formed, and apply that understanding to the development of principles by which programs can be implemented to both optimize learning realization and to effect recovery from behavioral and cognitive disorder.


In the effort to conceptualize a theoretical framework by which to develop unifying principles that may both define and explain the antecedents of human behavior it is imperative to synthesize findings and perspectives from the social and behavioral sciences -- incorporating positions in paleoanthropology and human evolution -- through rigorous hermeneutic and phenomenological analyses to push the envelope of social neuroscience beyond simply the integration of social psychology with neuroscience but toward a much more eclectic, broader field of Applied Social Neuroscience (ASN), synthesizing diverse orientations from which a more holistically considered theoretical basis of a workable, parsimoniously defined model of the human mind may be drawn.




Cacioppo JT, Amaral DG, Blanchard JJ, Cameron JL, Carter CS, Crews D, Fiske S, Heatherton T, Johnson MK,

Kozak MJ, Levenson RW, Lord C, Miller EK, Ochsner K, Raichle ME, Shea MT, Taylor SE, Young LJ & Quinn KJ (2007). Social neuroscience: Progress and implications for mental health. Perspectives on Psychological Science 2(2): 99-123. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00032.x.

Cacioppo JT & Berntson GG (1992). Social psychological contributions to the decade of the brain: Doctrine of multilevel

analysis. American Psychologist 47(8): 1019-1028. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.47.8.1019.

Cacioppo JT & Decety J (2011). Social neuroscience: Challenges and opportunities in the study of complex behavior.

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1224(1): 162-173. https://doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05858.x.

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