The repurposed social brain

Trends Cogn Sci. 2015 Mar;19(3):133-41. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.01.003.


Human social intelligence depends on a diverse array of perceptual, cognitive, and motivational capacities. Some of these capacities depend on neural systems that may have evolved through modification of ancestral systems with non-social or more limited social functions (evolutionary repurposing). Social intelligence, in turn, enables new forms of repurposing within the lifetime of an individual (cultural and instrumental repurposing), which entail innovating over and exploiting pre-existing circuitry to meet problems our brains did not evolve to solve. Considering these repurposing processes can provide insight into the computations that brain regions contribute to social information processing, generate testable predictions that usefully constrain social neuroscience theory, and reveal biologically imposed constraints on cultural inventions and our ability to respond beneficially to contemporary challenges.

Keywords: cultural recycling; evolution; neural reuse; social intelligence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Culture
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior*