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A Plea for Cross-species Social Neuroscience

Research group Keysers
Publication year 2017
Published in Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
Authors Christian Keysers, Valeria Gazzola

Over the past two decades, the question of how our brain makes us sensitive to the state of conspecifics and how that affects our behaviour has undergone a profound change. Twenty years ago what would now be called social neuroscience was focused on the visual processing of facial expressions and body movements in temporal lobe structures of primates (Puce and Perrett 2003). With the discovery of mirror neurons, this changed rapidly towards the modern field of social neuroscience, in which high-level vision is but one of many focuses of interest. In this essay, we will argue that for the further progress of the field, the integration of animal neuroscience and human neuroscience is paramount. We will do so, by focusing on the field of embodied social cognition. We will first show how the combination of animal and human neuroscience was critical in how the discovery of mirror neurons placed the motor system on the map of social cognition. We will then argue why an integrated cross-species approach will be pivotal to our understanding of the neural basis of emotional empathy and its link to prosocial behaviour.

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