Traditional neuroscience has for many years considered the nervous system as an isolated entity and largely ignored influences of the social environments in which humans and many animal species live. We now increasingly recognize the considerable impact on brain and body function of social structures that range from dyads, families, neighborhoods and groups to cities, civilizations, and international alliances. These factors operate on the individual through a continuous interplay of neural, neuroendocrine, metabolic and immune factors on brain and body, in which the brain is the central regulatory organ and also a malleable target of these factors. Thus, social neuroscience investigates the nervous system and its manifestations at many interacting levels – from molecules to societies – and brings together multiple disciplines and methodologies to define the emergent structures that define social species, generally, and which underlie human health and behavior, in particular. It is essential to unravel this complexity as we contemplate the future welfare of life on earth.
A dinner to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the interdisciplinary field of social neuroscience at the Society for Neuroscience meeting (Chicago, November 2009) resulted in meetings with neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, neurobiologists, engineers, and computer scientists in Argentina, Australia, Chile, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and United States. It was noted that, as a social species, humans create emergent organizations beyond the individual - structures that range from dyads, families, and groups to cities, civilizations, and international alliances. These emergent structures evolved hand in hand with neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms to support them because the consequent social behaviors helped humans survive, reproduce, and care for offspring sufficiently long that they too survived to reproduce, thereby ensuring their genetic legacy. Social neuroscience was defined broadly as the interdisciplinary study of the neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms underlying the emergent structures that define social species. Thus, among the participants in these meetings were scientists who used a wide variety of methods in studies of animals as well as humans and patients as well as normal participants. The consensus also emerged that a Society for Social Neuroscience should be established to give scientists from diverse disciplines and perspectives the opportunity to meet, communicate with, and benefit from the work of each other. The international, interdisciplinary Society for Social Neuroscience (http://S4SN.org) was launched by John Cacioppo and Jean Decety at the conclusion of these consultations in Auckland, New Zealand on 20 January 2010. The inaugural meeting for the Society is scheduled for November 12, 2010, the day prior to the 2010 Society for Neuroscience meeting (San Diego, CA), and among the meetings co-sponsored by the Society in 2011 that various members have already scheduled are Shanghai, China (January), Utrecht, Netherlands (March), and Paris, France (June). Look for videos of the talks at these meetings to be posted on the S4SN.org website to permit all members to participate, at least virtually, in these upcoming events.
Social neuroscience is the interdisciplinary academic field devoted to understanding how biological systems implement social processes and behavior. A fundamental assumption underlying social neuroscience is that all human social behavior is implemented biologically. The mission of the society is to serve as an international, interdisciplinary, distributed gathering place to advance and foster scientific training, research, and applications in the field for the sake of humankind.