Brain basis of human social interaction: from concepts to brain imaging

Physiol Rev. 2009 Apr;89(2):453-79. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00041.2007.


Modern neuroimaging provides a common platform for neuroscience and related disciplines to explore the human brain, mind, and behavior. We base our review on the social shaping of the human mind and discuss various aspects of brain function related to social interaction. Despite private mental contents, people can share their understanding of the world using, beyond verbal communication, nonverbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, and postures. The understanding of nonverbal messages is supported by the brain's mirroring systems that are shaped by individual experience. Within the organism-environment system, tight links exist between action and perception, both within an individual and between several individuals. Therefore, any comprehensive brain imaging study of the neuronal basis of social cognition requires appreciation of the situated and embodied nature of human cognition, motivating simultaneous monitoring of brain and bodily functions within a socially relevant environment. Because single-person studies alone cannot unravel the dynamic aspects of interpersonal interactions, it seems both necessary and beneficial to move towards "two-person neuroscience"; technological shortcomings and a limited conceptual framework have so far hampered such a leap. We conclude by discussing some major disorders of social interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Social Behavior Disorders / pathology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / physiopathology