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A colleague of mine in Adelaide makes the point that we were not born to be free of fear; if we were, we not have made it through to day two of creation. Some features are meant to be hardwired if an organism is to survive, and this should include basic fearful emotions.
Such emotional recognition is designed to be fast-circuited, so that we don’t sit and endless ponder if our approaching enemy has a threatening or nonthreatening look: by the time we come to our post 150ms analysis, our brain is moving and doing.
It is clear further from the content of this book that the predictable zone of operations is not always the amygdala, although most of the protective, avoidance mechanisms are. One of the major exceptions is the recognition of disgust for instance. This appears to be moderated by the Insula, that self-referential bunch of neurons next door. Further, this may be a defensive mechanism, much as anosognosia in traumatic brain injury. Vide conditions such as anorexia, and also Huntington’s chorea. In both cases the organism finds utility in ignoring what would incite disgust in others, the Bergen-Belsen look, and the disfiguring chorea being difficult to live with, unless the emotion that is most appropriate is no longer in the repertoire.
The explosion in the research in to social cognition has been no new phenomenon, as even Darwin wrote of the recognition of emotion in expressions in humans. Rueben Gur and others such as Lea Williams have begun to test large numbers, finding interesting anomalies, such as that the speed-accuracy tradeoff in general cognition does not apply in this field. More is to come I am sure as integrative neuroscience and standardization of faces coupled with large neuroinformatics databases yields insights.
Harmon-Jones and Winkielman have collected a large spectrum of authors, who all have in common the desire to explain such phenomena in neuroscientific terms.
37 other authors, most from the USA and many from Chicago, present 22 chapters drawing together in sections named after emotion processing, motivational processes, attitudes and social cognition, person perceptions, stereotyping and prejudice, as well as interpersonal relationships. Jennifer Beer launches with a discussion of the orbitofrontal cortex as arbiter of the emotions. Many such interactions are no longer spontaneous after damage to select areas, as subtlety is lost, together with the self-referential capacity. Beer makes it clear that blending approaches in an integrated approach is probably wise in investigating these phenomena.
Sadly, the level of knowledge is thin, as thin as Heberlein and Adolph’s terse chapter which presents the current evidence for shared substrates in the neurobiology of emotion recognition. The major contribution apart from interesting insights as above includes a concise discussion of simulation as a research tool.
Kudielka, Hellhammer and Kirschbaum review ten years of research with the Trier Social Stress Test. Their studies have shown that clinical diseases are associated with characteristic stress response profiles, and thus biological mechanism begin to unfold as markers for stress-disease association. They make the ambitious leap that the test could be used as a diagnostic tool for the prediction of disease susceptibility. As with most researchers however, all working in their silos around the world, I still find this unlikely. Markers of treatment response, or of disease susceptibility are unlikely to emerge unless larger numbers of patients are involved, and this is in turn unlikely without standardization of shared methodology, and integration of results across groups which is not possible unless they form a network. Nevertheless, the approach to putatively challenging the subjects and measuring responses is a good first step towards an integrative neuroscience combining data usually examined in isolation.
Norris and Cacioppo examine social emotional information processing in the brain. Their approach is one gaining popularity which sees the emotions as adaptive neurobehavioral organizations following on of all persons, Charles Darwin. Their concept that social and emotional information interact is unlikely to be challenged. A related concept is that of theory of mind, namely examining the concept of interpersonal empathy, our capacity to read emotions in others, using the same structures that we use self-referentially. Ochsner likewise presents the case for social cognitive neuroscience, an already well established paradigm. Selective uses of attentional processes as well as the updating of working memory, or reappraisal, are already in the literature, but more recent than the work in this book, as is always the case in edited literature that takes time to come to press. Again, the language between groups may separate them from each other’s data, with Ochsner discussing the variable use of the terms appraisal and reappraisal, and for instance the Brain Net group with Williams using implicit and explicit in their work. Again, the need is clear for standardization across the world to focus and drive such research and exploit the data. Hence, the examination of neutral and positive emotional stimuli that he calls for is probably already on the go, but not within the range of the USA authors necessarily.
Part three examines emotional processes, and Harmon-Jones kicks this off as contributor with a chapter on asymmetrical frontal cortical activity, affective valence, and motivational direction. This examines further the relation between, say low left frontal baseline activity and depression. There is the emergence here of study of happy emotions, with happy expressions requiring more frontal driving power on the left side. Anger also receives some attention, examining state and trait anger. Approach motivation is thus left hemisphere frontal-based, withdrawal to the other side. Whether anger is regarded as a positive or negative force, depends on how it is defined in terms of the context and Harmon-Jones discusses the value of valence definitions in determining relationships with frontal areas.
Knutson and Wimmer move to reward mechanisms, a less pessimistic view of emotions than the threat view. The neural bases of valuation are thus examined, in terms of the circuitry activated in experiencing rewarding information, including social reward. In this regard, mutually cooperative and thus rewarding activity in the social setting activates more intensely in the mesolimbic areas. In this way, humans are evaluated as not just thinking human beings but also as value processors. They feel that neuroimaging findings will bring together previously disparate domains which have been examined in isolation, but this may again not be likely unless integration of measures and standardization of the toolkits is accomplished.
Scultheiss examines a biobehavioral model of implicit power motivation, arousal, reward and frustration, in gender specific diagrams that are somewhat integrated. Van Honk and Shutter’s work focuses on vigilant and avoidant responses to angry facial expressions, in dominance and submission paradigms, using the emotional Stroop toolkit, again looking at hormones, the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex, not often examined. Again, the right hemisphere is more likely to cope with the motives for submission, the left caries dominant motivation in response to social threat.
Cunningham and Johnson move toward a component process framework, looking at attitude and motivation. They conclude that evaluations, namely reward, arise from multiple component and affective processes that work in concert to make judgments about the world. Barkley and others have spoken about a simulator that makes sense of the world over time. Here, different situational and motivational constraints including whether or not an explicit evaluation is required, activate different component processes, begging the question as to how they combine to produce the phenomenology of human experience, bringing together mind and brain.
Human empathy is examined by Decety, speaking of phenomenology. This includes here a discussion of what makes up empathy. Fazendeiro, Chenier, and Winkielman proceed further with a novel foray into the connection between liking, fluency and memory based in what they call dynamics of thinking. The most interesting section here in terms of the book is the neural basis of the fluency, familiarity, and affect connection, with a connection between positive emotion and memory, namely familiarity and positive affect.
Pursuing the now established tendency of authors in this book to derive models or use terms that others don’t, Lieberman uses C- and X system nomenclature within the expression of automatic and controlled social cognition, with X being reflexive and C being reflective. The author uses vast references, but again one has to decry this practice of not using perhaps what others might use in a unifying paradigm, perhaps a tower of Babel replicating again the non-standardized approach to this and other fields of endeavor in Neuroscience. How this and for instance implicit and explicit in other paradigms can be resolved is unclear.
Stone embarks on domain specificity in social intelligence, reverting to theories of mind, in that this and social intelligence require the coordination of domain specific abilities with more recent domain-general abilities, as he puts it.
Section V covers person perception, with as well, stereotyping and prejudice, merging the book into social neuroscience as the authors, Amodio, Devine and Harmon-Jones label it. This implies that they can establish a neural mechanism for recruiting prejudice control (page 361) using event related potentials, and then error-related negativity amplitudes when using a black-gun versus black-tool scenario. This is likely to be the most controversial chapter as the temporal resolution of what these authors are commenting on may be subject to challenge by others.
ERP’s are the focus likewise in the chapter by Bartholomew and Dickter who concentrate on person perception. Interestingly, they comment on the first 100ms of the ERP as not being the focus of social neuroscience research, which has to be a disaster since this is covering more unconscious processing of an implicit nature, as noted above. The effect of alcohol for instance is not noted in the early section of the ERP’s during the more automatic processing. Response conflict is noted interracially here as well. Finally, they show the value of temporal versus more spatial analysis (fMRI) which is something Steve Hyman could have done in his recent inquiry into the value of neuroscience for the DSM-V. He spoke only of the spatial, whereas, as these authors finally come to grips with, temporal resolution in such matters may be the most effective tool.
Ito, Willadsen-Jensen and Correll take prejudice further, focusing again on the value of insights from ERP, well established elsewhere by Williams and others as noted above.
This brief section is done, and so Section VI arrives concentrating on personal relationships. Sue Carter leads off, looking at neuropeptides and social bonds, and leading the reader to assume that a much closer look at social neuroscience will follow. Her focus does not disappoint, looking at neuroendocrinology and oxytocin for instance, and the relationship between oxytocin and vasopressin. In this way, the evidence is presented for the putative role of behavior on neural development, peptide hormones being the most interesting because of their presumed response to social activity.
Iacoboni has the most intriguing title, namely the quiet revolution of existential neuroscience. To me, this would be the most subjective-objective stance to take all at once, something Russell, Whitehead and others like Bateson would have decried as epistemological confusion. Although on the one hand it is made clear how vast this field is, the approaches to it are reflecting how easily this converts into a tower of Babel.
Taylor and Gonzaga look at affiliative responses to stress, again invoking a social neuroscience model: they look at separating distress and opioid functioning. They combine some theories of oxytocin into their discussion, which adds nicely to the other discussion without allowing their data to necessarily dovetail with Carter’s for instance. An integrative approach, a collaboration by these authors would be nice, but we can only dream of what would happen if all of these authors drew on the same data or integrated their knowledge and harvesting tools. Affiliation under stress is actually their focus, and makes for interesting reading as they conclude that oxytocin and opioids are biomarkers of social distress that may provide an impetus for affiliation. I think however that their belief may fall foul of the data, as for instance although genes may influence brain, and brain, in turn, behavior, the link directly from gene to behavior is unlikely to be made: the question is, can these substances directly influence behavior, or only brain?
Uchino, Holt-Lunstad, Uno, Campo and Reblen, look at relationships in health-relevant pathway terms, and of course they focus on cardiology. I am unsure of how very much this is social neuroscience, but it is an interesting field.
The vastness of the field is demonstrated by the book’s 22 chapters, and their often disparate but complimentary views of where the field should go, with everyone in their silos. This is a valuable book because of this width of views, but an overall view of this book is difficult. What is clear is that if these authors investigate across a full spectrum, not ignoring any of the milliseconds or any of the methods, and most of all, develop an integrative neuroscience with sufficient standardization so that data can be compared, and integrated with others, then this field has the promise of delivering to the world an immense understanding of the modification of behavior by social cognitive processes. Without such integration, the book is thus dominated by arm waving and look here at me, with puzzling results for the reader. Overall, the volume is valuable and complex, a massive contribution to a field that is so fast growing that the book is already outdated, and needs revision. I look forward to the insights of the second edition and the editors should not procrastinate.
© 2007 Roy Sugarman
Roy Sugarman, Ph.D., Director of Clinical and Neuropsychological Services, Brain Resource Company, Ultimo, Australia
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