Person Perception and Social Gaze

by Kai Vogeley

So-called meta-cognitive processes related to self-referential and social cognition have become key topics in cognitive neuroscience and initiated the development of a new research domain called social (cognitive) neuroscience. Social cognition as key theme of social neuroscience focuses on all those cognitive processes that deal with the understanding of one´s own and/or other persons behavior or mental states for the purpose of successful communication and interaction with others. The capacity to differentiate between one´s own and others mental states appears to be a necessary prerequisite of proper social communication. Empirical studies on the neural mechanisms demonstrate that two different neural systems appear to be involved, namely the so-called “social neural network” (SNN), essentially comprising the anterior medial prefrontal cortex and the cortex of the temporo-parietal junction and the so-called “mirror neuron system” (MNS), essentially comprising the superior parietal and premotor cortices. Especially studies on non-verbal communication and person perception suggest two different functional roles for both systems. According to this speculation the MNS plays an early role in the processing of social information focusing on the “detection” of potentially socially salient information, whereas the SNN is involved at a late processing stage associated with the “evaluation” of socially relevant information.

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