Functional neuroimaging investigations in the fields of social neuroscience and neuroeconomics indicate that the anterior insular cortex (AI) is consistently involved in empathy, compassion, and interpersonal phenomena such as fairness and cooperation. These findings suggest that AI plays an important role in social emotions, hereby defined as affective states that arise when we interact with other people and that depend on the social context. After we link the role of AI in social emotions to interoceptive awareness and the representation of current global emotional states, we will present a model suggesting that AI is not only involved in representing current states, but also in predicting emotional states relevant to the self and others. This model also proposes that AI enables us to learn about emotional states as well as about the uncertainty attached to events, and implies that AI plays a dominant role in decision making in complex and uncertain environments. Our review further highlights that dorsal and ventro-central, as well as anterior and posterior subdivisions of AI potentially subserve different functions and guide different aspects of behavioral regulation. We conclude with a section summarizing different routes to understanding other people’s actions, feelings and thoughts, emphasizing the notion that the predominant role of AI involves understanding others’ feeling and bodily states rather than their action intentions or abstract beliefs.
Successful decision making in a social setting depends on our ability to understand the intentions, emotions and beliefs of others. The mirror system allows us to understand other people's motor actions and action intentions. ‘Empathy’ allows us to understand and share emotions and sensations with others. ‘Theory of mind’ allows us to understand more abstract concepts such as beliefs or wishes in others. In all these cases, evidence has accumulated that we use the specific neural networks engaged in processing mental states in ourselves to understand the same mental states in others. However, the magnitude of the brain activity in these shared networks is modulated by contextual appraisal of the situation or the other person. An important feature of decision making in a social setting concerns the interaction of reason and emotion. We consider four domains where such interactions occur: our sense of fairness, altruistic punishment, trust and framing effects. In these cases, social motivations and emotions compete with each other, while higher-level control processes modulate the interactions of these low-level biases.
Drawing on recent claims in the study of relationships, attachment, and emotion, the authors hypothesized that romantic love serves a commitment-related function and sexual desire a reproduction-related function. Consistent with these claims, in Study 1, brief experiences of romantic love and sexual desire observed in a 3-min interaction between romantic partners were related to distinct feeling states, distinct nonverbal displays, and commitment- and reproductive-related relationship outcomes, respectively. In Study 2, the nonverbal display of romantic love was related to the release of oxytocin. Discussion focuses on the place of romantic love and sexual desire in the literature on emotion.
This study, based on a sample of 172 children, examined the relation between average afternoon salivary cortisol levels measured at home at age 4.5 years and socioemotional adjustment a year and a half later, as reported by mothers, fathers, and teachers. Cortisol levels were hypothesized to be positively associated with withdrawal-type behaviors (e.g., internalizing, social wariness) and inversely related to approach-type behaviors, both negative and positive (e.g., externalizing, school engagement). Higher cortisol levels at age 4.5 predicted more internalizing behavior and social wariness as reported by teachers and mothers, although child gender moderated the relation between cortisol and mother report measures. An inverse relation was found between boys' cortisol levels and father report of externalizing behavior. A marginal inverse relation was found between child cortisol levels and teacher report of school engagement. Behavior assessed concurrently with cortisol collection did not account for the prospective relations observed,suggesting that cortisol adds uniquely to an understanding of behavioral development.
Our objective was to conduct the first randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of a group mindfulness program aimed at reducing and preventing depression in an adolescent school-based population. For each of 12 pairs of parallel classes with students (age range 13–20) from five schools (N = 408), one class was randomly assigned to the mindfulness condition and one class to the control condition. Students in the mindfulness group completed depression assessments (the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales) prior to and immediately following the intervention and 6 months after the intervention. Control students completed the questionnaire at the same times as those in the mindfulness group. Hierarchical linear modeling showed that the mindfulness intervention showed significantly greater reductions (and greater clinically significant change) in depression compared with the control group at the 6-month follow-up. Cohen's d was medium sized (>.30) for both the pre-to-post and pre-to-follow-up effect for depressive symptoms in the mindfulness condition. The findings suggest that school-based mindfulness programs can help to reduce and prevent depression in adolescents.
Appropriate social problem solving constitutes a critical skill for individuals and may rely on processes important for self-generated thought (SGT). The aim of the current study was to investigate the link between SGT and social problem solving. Using the Means-End Problem Solving task (MEPS), we assessed participants' abilities to resolve daily social problems in terms of overall efficiency and number of relevant means they provided to reach the given solution. Participants also performed a non-demanding choice reaction time task (CRT) and a moderately-demanding working memory task (WM) as a context in which to measure their SGT (assessed via thought sampling). We found that although overall SGT was associated with lower MEPS efficiency, it was also associated with higher relevant means, perhaps because both depend on the capacity to generate cognition that is independent from the hear and now. The specific content of SGT did not differentially predict individual differences in social problem solving, suggesting that the relationship may depend on SGT regardless of its content. In addition, we also found that performance at the WM but not the CRT was linked to overall better MEPS performance, suggesting that individuals good at social processing are also distinguished by their capacity to constrain attention to an external task. Our results provide novel evidence that the capacity for SGT is implicated in the process by which solutions to social problems are generated, although optimal problem solving may be achieved by individuals who display a suitable balance between SGT and cognition derived from perceptual input.
For decades the importance of background situations has been documented across all areas of cognition. Nevertheless, theories of concepts generally ignore background situations, focusing largely on bottom-up, stimulus-based processing. Furthermore, empirical research on concepts typically ignores background situations, not incorporating them into experimental designs. A selective review of relevant literatures demonstrates that concepts are not abstracted out of situations but instead are situated. Background situations constrain conceptual processing in many tasks (e.g., recall, recognition, categorization, lexical decision, color naming, property verification, property generation) across many areas of cognition (e.g., episodic memory, conceptual processing, visual object recognition, language comprehension). A taxonomy of situations is proposed in which grain size, meaningfulness, and tangibility distinguish the cumulative situations that structure cognition hierarchically.
Recent research suggests that lower-class individuals favor explanations of personal and political outcomes that are oriented to features of the external environment. We extended this work by testing the hypothesis that, as a result, individuals of a lower social class are more empathically accurate in judging the emotions of other people. In three studies, lower-class individuals (compared with upper-class individuals) received higher scores on a test of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of an interaction partner more accurately (Study 2), and made more accurate inferences about emotion from static images of muscle movements in the eyes (Study 3). Moreover, the association between social class and empathic accuracy was explained by the tendency for lower-class individuals to explain social events in terms of features of the external environment. The implications of class-based patterns in empathic accuracy for well-being and relationship outcomes are discussed.
Social class reflects more than the material conditions of people’s lives. Objective resources (e.g., income) shape cultural practices and behaviors that signal social class. These signals create cultural identities among upper- and lower-class individuals—identities that are rooted in subjective perceptions of social-class rank vis-à-vis others. Empirical studies find that perceptions of social-class rank influence patterns of contextual versus dispositional cognition and other- versus self-oriented affect and behavior that are consistent with objective resource-based measures of social class. Our theoretical conceptualization emphasizes the utility of measuring and manipulating perceptions of social-class rank to better understand how social class influences thought and action across diverse social domains.
Recent evidence suggests that perceptions of social class rank influence a variety of social cognitive tendencies, from patterns of causal attribution to moral judgment. In the present studies we tested the hypotheses that upper-class rank individuals would be more likely to endorse essentialist lay theories of social class categories (i.e., that social class is founded in genetically based, biological differences) than would lower-class rank individuals and that these beliefs would decrease support for restorative justice--which seeks to rehabilitate offenders, rather than punish unlawful action. Across studies, higher social class rank was associated with increased essentialism of social class categories (Studies 1, 2, and 4) and decreased support for restorative justice (Study 4). Moreover, manipulated essentialist beliefs decreased preferences for restorative justice (Study 3), and the association between social class rank and class-based essentialist theories was explained by the tendency to endorse beliefs in a just world (Study 2). Implications for how class-based essentialist beliefs potentially constrain social opportunity and mobility are discussed.
Social class is shaped by an individual's material resources as well as perceptions of rank vis-à-vis others in society, and in this article, we examine how class influences behavior. Diminished resources and lower rank create contexts that constrain social outcomes for lower-class individuals and enhance contextualist tendencies--that is, a focus on external, uncontrollable social forces and other individuals who influence one's life outcomes. In contrast, abundant resources and elevated rank create contexts that enhance the personal freedoms of upper-class individuals and give rise to solipsistic social cognitive tendencies--that is, an individualistic focus on one's own internal states, goals, motivations, and emotions. Guided by this framework, we detail 9 hypotheses and relevant empirical evidence concerning how class-based contextualist and solipsistic tendencies shape the self, perceptions of the social environment, and relationships to other individuals. Novel predictions and implications for research in other socio-political contexts are considered.
The phenomenon of empathy entails the ability to share the affective experiences of others. In recent years social neuroscience made considerable progress in revealing the mechanisms that enable a person to feel what another is feeling. The present review provides an in-depth and critical discussion of these findings. Consistent evidence shows that sharing the emotions of others is associated with activation in neural structures that are also active during the first-hand experience of that emotion. Part of the neural activation shared between self- and other-related experiences seems to be rather automatically activated. However, recent studies also show that empathy is a highly flexible phenomenon, and that vicarious responses are malleable with respect to a number of factors—such as contextual appraisal, the interpersonal relationship between empathizer and other, or the perspective adopted during observation of the other. Future investigations are needed to provide more detailed insights into these factors and their neural underpinnings. Questions such as whether individual differences in empathy can be explained by stable personality traits, whether we can train ourselves to be more empathic, and how empathy relates to prosocial behavior are of utmost relevance for both science and society.
Power increases the tendency to behave in a goal-congruent fashion. Guided by this theoretical notion, we hypothesized that elevated power would strengthen the positive association between prosocial orientation and empathic accuracy. In 3 studies with university and adult samples, prosocial orientation was more strongly associated with empathic accuracy when distinct forms of power were high than when power was low. In Study 1, a physiological indicator of prosocial orientation, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, exhibited a stronger positive association with empathic accuracy in a face-to-face interaction among dispositionally high-power individuals. In Study 2, experimentally induced prosocial orientation increased the ability to accurately judge the emotions of a stranger but only for individuals induced to feel powerful. In Study 3, a trait measure of prosocial orientation was more strongly related to scores on a standard test of empathic accuracy among employees who occupied high-power positions within an organization. Study 3 further showed a mediated relationship between prosocial orientation and career satisfaction through empathic accuracy among employees in high-power positions but not among employees in lower power positions. Discussion concentrates upon the implications of these findings for studies of prosociality, power, and social behavior.
OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that socioeconomic status (SES) would be associated with sleep quality measured objectively, even after controlling for related covariates (health status, psychosocial characteristics). Epidemiological studies linking SES and sleep quality have traditionally relied on self-reported assessments of sleep. METHODS: Ninety-four women, 61 to 90 years of age, participated in this study. SES was determined by pretax household income and years of education. Objective and subjective assessments of sleep quality were obtained using the NightCap sleep system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), respectively. Health status was determined by subjective health ratings and objective measures of recent and chronic illnesses. Depressive symptoms and neuroticism were quantified using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Neuroticism subscale of the NEO Personality Inventory, respectively. RESULTS: Household income significantly predicted sleep latency and sleep efficiency even after adjusting for demographic factors, health status, and psychosocial characteristics. Income also predicted PSQI scores, although this association was significantly attenuated by inclusion of neuroticism in multivariate analyses. Education predicted both sleep latency and sleep efficiency, but the latter association was partially reduced after health status and psychosocial measures were included in analyses. Education predicted PSQI sleep efficiency component scores, but not global scores. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that SES is robustly linked to both subjective and objective sleep quality, and that health status and psychosocial characteristics partially explain these associations.
The study evaluates the effects of 5 years of religious training on the personalities of 31 residents of a Zen Buddhist monastic seminary. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was administered to each subject each year. Comparison of results at Years 1 and 5 revealed predicted improvements, significant at the .05 level, in scales assessing ego strength and dependency and in two measures of general adjustment. A similar pattern of results was found across a time period of only one year in those subjects who experienced a major religious understanding. Comparison with similar studies conducted in Christian seminaries and religious orders suggests that specific elements of monastic life may influence personal adjustment.
Social cognition, including complex social judgments and attitudes, is shaped by individual learning experiences, where affect often plays a critical role. Aversive classical conditioning-a form of associative learning involving a relationship between a neutral event (conditioned stimulus, CS) and an aversive event (unconditioned stimulus, US)-represents a well-controlled paradigm to study how the acquisition of socially relevant knowledge influences behavior and the brain. Unraveling the temporal unfolding of brain mechanisms involved appears critical for an initial understanding about how social cognition operates. Here, 128-channel ERPs were recorded in 50 subjects during the acquisition phase of a differential aversive classical conditioning paradigm. The CS+ (two fearful faces) were paired 50% of the time with an aversive noise (CS upward arrow + /Paired), whereas in the remaining 50% they were not (CS upward arrow + /Unpaired); the CS- (two different fearful faces) were never paired with the noise. Scalp ERP analyses revealed differences between CS upward arrow + /Unpaired and CS- as early as approximately 120 ms post-stimulus. Tomographic source localization analyses revealed early activation modulated by the CS+ in the ventral visual pathway (e.g. fusiform gyrus, approximately 120 ms), right middle frontal gyrus (approximately 176 ms), and precuneus (approximately 240 ms). At approximately 120 ms, the CS- elicited increased activation in the left insula and left middle frontal gyrus. These findings not only confirm a critical role of prefrontal, insular, and precuneus regions in aversive conditioning, but they also suggest that biologically and socially salient information modulates activation at early stages of the information processing flow, and thus furnish initial insight about how affect and social judgments operate.
Previous research has reported that individuals high in the need for Power, high in inhibition, and high in power stress (the HHH group) are more likely than other individuals to report more severe illnesses. The present study investigates the possibility that the mechanism underlying this relationship is greater sympathetic activation in the HHH group which has an immunosuppressive effect. College males with the HHH syndrome reported more frequent and more severe illnesses than other individuals, as in previous studies. More of the HHH than other subjects also showed above average epinephrine excretion rates in urine and below average concentrations of immunoglobulin A in saliva (S-IgA). Furthermore, higher rates of epinephrine excretion were significantly associated with lower S-IgA concentrations, and lower S-IgA concentrations were significantly associated with reports of more frequent illnesses. The findings are interpreted as consistent with the hypothesis that a strong need for Power, if it is inhibited and stressed, leads to chronic sympathetic overactivity which has an immunosuppressive effect making individuals characterized by this syndrome more susceptible to illness.
<p>Previous functional imaging studies have shown key roles of the dorsal anterior insula (dAI) and anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) in empathy for the suffering of others. The current study mapped structural covariance networks of these regions and assessed the relationship between networks and individual differences in empathic responding in 94 females. Individual differences in empathy were assessed through average state measures in response to a video task showing others' suffering, and through questionnaire-based trait measures of empathic concern. Overall, covariance patterns indicated that dAI and aMCC are principal hubs within prefrontal, temporolimbic, and midline structural covariance networks. Importantly, participants with high empathy state ratings showed increased covariance of dAI, but not aMCC, to prefrontal and limbic brain regions. This relationship was specific for empathy and could not be explained by individual differences in negative affect ratings. Regarding questionnaire-based empathic trait measures, we observed a similar, albeit weaker modulation of dAI covariance, confirming the robustness of our findings. Our analysis, thus, provides novel evidence for a specific contribution of frontolimbic structural covariance networks to individual differences in social emotions beyond negative affect.</p>
BACKGROUND: Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system activation is adaptive in response to stress, and HPA dysregulation occurs in stress-related psychopathology. It is important to understand the mechanisms that modulate HPA output, yet few studies have addressed the neural circuitry associated with HPA regulation in primates and humans. Using high-resolution F-18-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in rhesus monkeys, we assessed the relation between individual differences in brain activity and HPA function across multiple contexts that varied in stressfulness. METHODS: Using a logical AND conjunctions analysis, we assessed cortisol and brain metabolic activity with FDG-PET in 35 adolescent rhesus monkeys exposed to two threat and two home-cage conditions. To test the robustness of our findings, we used similar methods in an archival data set. In this data set, brain metabolic activity and cortisol were assessed in 17 adolescent male rhesus monkeys that were exposed to three stress-related contexts. RESULTS: Results from the two studies revealed that subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC) metabolism (Brodmann's area 25/24) consistently predicted individual differences in plasma cortisol concentrations regardless of the context in which brain activity and cortisol were assessed. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that activation in subgenual PFC may be related to HPA output across a variety of contexts (including familiar settings and novel or threatening situations). Individuals prone to elevated subgenual PFC activity across multiple contexts may be individuals who consistently show heightened cortisol and may be at risk for stress-related HPA dysregulation.
"The practice of contemplation is one of the great spiritual arts," writes Martin Laird in A Sunlit Absence. "Not a technique but a skill, it harnesses the winds of grace that lead us out into the liberating sea of silence." In this companion volume to his bestselling Into the Silent Land, Laird focuses on a quality often overlooked by books on Christian meditation: a vast and flowing spaciousness that embraces both silence and sound, and transcends all subject/object dualisms. Drawing on the wisdom of great contemplatives from St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Avila to St. Hesychios, Simone Weil, and many others, Laird shows how we can uncover the deeper levels of awareness that rest within us like buried treasure waiting to be found. The key insight of the book is that as our practice matures, so will our experience of life's ordeals, sorrows, and joys expand into generous, receptive maturity. We learn to see whatever difficulties we experience in meditation--boredom, lethargy, arrogance, depression, grief, anxiety--not as obstacles to be overcome but as opportunities to practice surrender to what is. With clarity and grace Laird shows how we can move away from identifying with our turbulent, ever-changing thoughts and emotions to the cultivation of a "sunlit absence"--the luminous awareness in which God's presence can most profoundly be felt. Addressed to both beginners and intermediates on the pathless path of still prayer, A Sunlit Absence offers wise guidance on the specifics of contemplative practice as well as an inspiring vision of the purpose of such practice and the central role it can play in our spiritual lives.
This book takes a bold new look at ways of exploring the nature, origins, and potentials of consciousness within the context of science and religion. It draws careful distinctions between four elements of the scientific tradition: science itself, scientific realism, scientific materialism, and scientism. Arguing that the metaphysical doctrine of scientific materialism has taken on the role of ersatz-religion for its adherents, it traces its development from its Greek and Judeo-Christian origins, focusing on the interrelation between the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. It also looks at scientists' long term resistance to the firsthand study of consciousness and details the ways in which subjectivity has been deemed taboo within the scientific community. In conclusion, the book draws on William James's idea for a “science of religion” that would study the nature of religious and, in particular, contemplative experience.
There are a great many books now available describing the complex rituals and esoteric significance of the ancient practices of Buddhist tantra. But none take the friendly, helpful approach of Geshe Tashi Tsering’s Foundation of Buddhist Thought series. Understanding the many questions Westerners have upon first encountering tantra’s colorful imagery and veiled language, Geshe Tsering gives straight talk about deities, initiations, mandalas, and the various stages of tantric development. He even goes through a simple tantric compassion practice written by the Dalai Lama, using it to unpack the building blocks common to all such visualization techniques. Tantra is a fitting conclusion to the folksy and practical wisdom in the Foundation of Buddhist Thought series.
Following E. Goffman's (1967) face threat analysis of social interaction, it was hypothesized that the aggressive, playful content of teasing would vary according to social status and relational satisfaction, personality, role as teaser or target, and gender. These 4 hypotheses were tested in analyses of the teasing among fraternity members (Study 1) and romantic couples (Study 2). Consistent with a face threat analysis of teasing, low-status fraternity members and satisfied romantic partners teased in more prosocial ways, defined by reduced face threat and increased redressive action. Some findings indicate that disagreeable individuals teased in less prosocial ways, consistent with studies of bullying. Targets reported more negative emotion than teasers. Although female and male romantic partners teased each other in similar ways, women found being the target of teasing more aversive, consistent with previous speculation.
Two replication studies test in Canada a field theory of the effect of consciousness on social change. The exogenous variable is the number of participants in the largest North American group practice of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program, in Iowa. The first study indicated a significant reduction in violent deaths (homicide, suicide, and motor vehicle fatalities), using both time series intervention analysis and transfer function analysis methods, in weeks following change in the exogenous variable during the period 1983 to 1985. The second study, using time series intervention analysis, gave during and after intervention periods a significant improvement in quality of life on an index composed of the behavioral variables available on a monthly basis for Canada from 1972 to 1986 - homicide, suicide, motor vehicle fatalities, cigarette consumption, and workers' days lost due to strikes. Implications of the findings for theory and social policy are noted briefly.
Several randomised controlled trials suggest that mindfulness-based approaches are helpful in preventing depressive relapse and recurrence, and the UK Government’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended these interventions for use in the National Health Service. There are good grounds to suggest that mindfulness-based approaches are also helpful with anxiety disorders and a range of chronic physical health problems, and there is much clinical and research interest in applying mindfulness approaches to other populations and problems such as people with personality disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders. We review the UK context for developments in mindfulness-based approaches and set out criteria for mindfulness teacher competence and training steps, as well as some of the challenges and future directions that can be anticipated in ensuring that evidence-based mindfulness approaches are available in health care and other settings.