Social cognition involves the neuroscientific study of affective states, cognition and motivation with regards to social behaviour. Specifically, structures known to be crucial for social behaviour include the sensory cortices, amygdala, the ventral striatum, the orbitofrontal cortex and the cingulate cortices (1). In addition, dopamine meditated reward-motivation circuits and oxytocin levels have been implicated in changes in social behaviour and cognition (2). The study of higher cognition function is an interdisciplinary field that strives to integrate social cognition on the social psychological, cognitive and neural levels. Two main psychological and neurobiological schemas have been used to integrate these levels: top-down, and bottom-up social processing (2). One, the bottom-up schema of social cognition, involves the study of cognitive functions by using basic neurobiological phenomena to explain more complex social phenomena, while top-down social cognition schemes take ‘real world topics of interest’ and explain them in terms of affective, and motivational states (2). Current research has involved taking complex cognitive processes unique to humans, and explaining them in a ‘bottom-up’ fashion by examining the neurobiological and neurochemical correlates with each social phenomena. In particular, the neurobiological basis of morality, love, and the social experiences of religion have been implicated in recent research, using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain lesion case studies, and pharmacological methodologies.

Contents

1. Neurobiology of Morality - K. Dunlop
2. Romantic Love - C. Nahm
3. Mindfulness Practices & Meditation - P. Yarmak
4. Religious Experience & the Brain - E. Sekyere
5. Entheogens B. Meraj


1. Neurobiology of Morality (K. Dunlop)
Main article: Neurobiology of Morality
The neurobiology of moral behaviour is the scientific study of the neurologic and biologic basis of behaviour that underlies decision-making in moral dilemmas. These behaviours involve many parallel cognitive processes, including complex social, emotional circuitry responsible for behaviour and emotions such as disgust, trust, and moral decisions (3). Specifically, moral behaviour is a result of reasoning and judgment based on one’s understanding of social norms, and the attribution of intentions, beliefs, and emotions of oneself and other people (4). In addition, regions of the brain such as the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and the right temporoparietal junction have been implicated in aversive social learning, social cues such as intention and attaching social and emotional value to environmental stimuli to bias decisions of moral dilemmas (5). This area of social cognitive neuroscience relies on techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and the observation of individuals with lesions in associated brain areas and those who exhibit abnormal moral behaviour.

Contents

1 Working Model of Moral Cognition
2 Neuroanatomical Correlates
3 Chemical Correlates
4 Development
5 Utilitarianism
6 Dysfunction of Moral Behaviour
7 References


2. Romantic Love (C. Nahm)
Romantic Love

Romantic Love

(I) Early-Stage Romantic Love

(II) Long-Term Relationships

(III). Neural Mechanisms of Maintenance of Romantic Relationships

(VI). References

Romantic love produces a set of complex emotions that are distinctly different from other types of love, such as maternal love, or compassionate love[1] . It does not only affect behaviours, but also alter the brain's neuronal activities of the affected individual significantly. Recent advances in brain-imaging techniques have enabled close examination of the phenomenon from the neurobiological perspective. fMRI studies have shown active blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) response observed in subcritical mesolimbic areas during the course of romantic love[2] [3] [4] , which are critical for dopaminergic reward system. The unusual physiological and behavioural changes observed during the early stage of romantic love, are implicated with transient changes in the neuronal activity. Love-induced changes in the brain show rapid onset, yet these are sufficient to alter the individual's cognitive processing significantly. In addition, the changes in neural signalling pattern and synapses are strongly associated with the longevity of romantic love[5] . Together with social psychological studies, the neurobiological approach to romantic love views the critical mechanism to be the system of mammalian mate choice, and that human brain has developed implicit mechanisms in order to maximize the beneficial effect for the chance of survival and reproductive success.[6] [7]



3. Mindfulness Practices & Meditation (P. Yarmak)
Main article: Mindfulness Practices and Meditation

Contents

1 General Working Model of Meditation
2 Neural Basis of Meditation
3 Effects
4 Medical Applications


4. Religious Experience and the Brain(E. Sekyere)
  1. Neural Activation During Prayer – mPFC, Temporopolar Region
  2. fMRI Studies & Prayer
  3. Dopaminergic Systems & Repeated Prayer
  4. Prayer & Healing (Miracles)
  5. Charisma, Religious Leaders & Religious Experiences


5. Entheogens (B. Meraj)
  1. Definition of ‘God-Finding’ Drugs
  2. Neural Correlates of Entheogens
  3. Connection to Spirituality and Religion
  4. Therapeutic Implications


References

1. Adolphs, R. (2003). Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Social Behaviour. Nature, 4: 165-178.
2. Oschsner, K.N., & Lieberman, M.D. (2001). The Emergence of Social Cognitive Neuroscience. American Psychologist, 56(9): 717-734.
3. Funk C.M. & Gazzaniga, M.S. (2009). The functional brain architecture of human morality. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 19: 678-681.
4. Mendez, M.F. (2006) What frontotemporal dementia reveals about the neurobiological basis of morality. Medical Hypotheses, 67: 411-418.
5. Moll, J., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Eslinger, P.J. (2003). Morals and the human brain: a working model. NeuroReport, 14(33): 299-305.