We review a diversity of studies of human social interaction and highlight the importance of social signals. We also discuss recent findings from social cognitive neuroscience that explore the brain basis of the capacity for processing social signals. These signals enable us to learn about the world from others, to learn about other people, and to create a shared social world. Social signals can be processed automatically by the receiver and may be unconsciously emitted by the sender. These signals are non-verbal and are responsible for social learning in the first year of life. Social signals can also be processed consciously and this allows automatic processing to be modulated and overruled. Evidence for this higher-level social processing is abundant from about 18 months of age in humans, while evidence is sparse for non-human animals. We suggest that deliberate social signalling requires reflective awareness of ourselves and awareness of the effect of the signals on others. Similarly, the appropriate reception of such signals depends on the ability to take another person's point of view. This ability is critical to reputation management, as this depends on monitoring how our own actions are perceived by others. We speculate that the development of these high level social signalling systems goes hand in hand with the development of consciousness.