Small Groups Meeting on Social Neuroscience
Neuroscience offers methods that develop at remarkable speed and hold exciting promises for the future of psychological science. From the decoding of cerebral patterns to the inference of thoughts to the manipulation of neuronal activity, neuroscientific innovations constitute new tools to understand and alter mental functions and behavior. These advancements are also used to study how people process information about others and behave in social situations. The number of publications investigating social cognition with neuroimaging methods keeps on growing. But, although this research arouses considerable interest in the neuroscience community, the media, and funding agencies, social neuroscience has received a mixed reception from social psychologists.
Several issues lay at the heart of the concerns that social psychologists have expressed towards neuroscience. Notably, it is still unclear which psychological questions neuroimaging methods are well suited to address. What kind of cognitive inferences can be drawn from brain activations? How far are we in our ability to map specific neuronal networks onto precise cognitive functions? Are neuroimaging methods useful to study complex social cognitive mechanisms or are they only adapted to lower level processes? These are only some of the questions that social neuroscience needs to address to produce a valuable contribution to the understanding of the organization of social cognition and to find its place in social psychology.
Unfortunately, social psychologists interested in neuroscience have few opportunities to meet and discuss these questions. This is especially true in Europe, where social neuroscience is mainly dominated by researchers outside social psychology (e.g., cognitive neuroscience, psychiatry, neuroeconomics; see http://www.socialaffectiveneuro.org/labs.html). Moreover, the funds that were previously allocated to the European Social and Affective Neuroscience network to organize meetings and workshops have recently been cut (see http://www.vub.ac.be/ESAN/). Thus, prospects for a meeting on the topic of social neuroscience in Europe are limited in the close future.
This meeting gives social psychologists interested in neuroscience the possibility to meet in a small group that enables participants to address the challenges that neuroscience presents. Instead of research presentations, we would like to use this time to provide a platform where outright skeptical social psychologists meet enthusiastic users of neuroscience methods for open-minded and constructive discussions about the potentials and boundaries of a neuroscientific approach to social cognition and social psychology more generally.