How social cognition can inform social decision making

Front Neurosci. 2013 Dec 25;7:259. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00259.


Social decision-making is often complex, requiring the decision-maker to make inferences of others' mental states in addition to engaging traditional decision-making processes like valuation and reward processing. A growing body of research in neuroeconomics has examined decision-making involving social and non-social stimuli to explore activity in brain regions such as the striatum and prefrontal cortex, largely ignoring the power of the social context. Perhaps more complex processes may influence decision-making in social vs. non-social contexts. Years of social psychology and social neuroscience research have documented a multitude of processes (e.g., mental state inferences, impression formation, spontaneous trait inferences) that occur upon viewing another person. These processes rely on a network of brain regions including medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), superior temporal sulcus (STS), temporal parietal junction, and precuneus among others. Undoubtedly, these social cognition processes affect social decision-making since mental state inferences occur spontaneously and automatically. Few studies have looked at how these social inference processes affect decision-making in a social context despite the capability of these inferences to serve as predictions that can guide future decision-making. Here we review and integrate the person perception and decision-making literatures to understand how social cognition can inform the study of social decision-making in a way that is consistent with both literatures. We identify gaps in both literatures-while behavioral economics largely ignores social processes that spontaneously occur upon viewing another person, social psychology has largely failed to talk about the implications of social cognition processes in an economic decision-making context-and examine the benefits of integrating social psychological theory with behavioral economic theory.

Keywords: computers; economic games; person perception; social cognition; social decision-making.

Publication types

  • Review