How the brain processes social information: searching for the social brain

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2004;27:697-722. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144148.


Because information about gender, kin, and social status are essential for reproduction and survival, it seems likely that specialized neural mechanisms have evolved to process social information. This review describes recent studies of four aspects of social information processing: (a) perception of social signals via the vomeronasal system, (b) formation of social memory via long-term filial imprinting and short-term recognition, (c) motivation for parental behavior and pair bonding, and (d) the neural consequences of social experience. Results from these studies and some recent functional imaging studies in human subjects begin to define the circuitry of a "social brain." Such neurodevelopmental disorders as autism and schizophrenia are characterized by abnormal social cognition and corresponding deficits in social behavior; thus social neuroscience offers an important opportunity for translational research with an impact on public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Imprinting, Psychological / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Pair Bond
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Socialization
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*