1.       Human Quest video the "social brain" (notes 10/07)

(Here are my notes on the video along with some addition material from Darwin (1871) on faces and expression of emotion.  Also there are some links to the topics related to the "Golden Rule" and reciprocity among primates.

A.     universals: language, tastes for fats/sweets..., social behavior

1.    the idea of specific human adaptations

No surprises here though much is unknown.  One point is worth repeating, primates are "generalists" for example in tool use the hand takes on many functions according to the tool it holds.  To some extent, too, our brain can use functions evolved for one function for many others.

B.     evolved brain

scientists tend to believe the brain we have evolved under certain conditions that make it what it is today.  In the video and readings we have seen again and again that foraging and social relationships govern primate behavior.

1.    small hunter-gatherer groups

did our social brain evolve in this environment? See Dunbar readings and references.

2.    cultural evolution

What really makes humans different is that culture offers a means of rapid change and collective wisdom without genetic changes.  Nonhuman primates and other species show little of this. While recent research reveals cultural differences-- so called-- between groups of chimps, there is little evidence of progressive development of tools and traditions in a functional fashion. Read about the recent discovery of stone tools, supposedly used by chimps some 4000 years ago. They are no different than those of today. Think of the changes in human tools over that period.

C.     Social "tools" of the brain

1.    faces

a)    the importance of faces:

Loss of face recognition abiity -- "prosopagnosia"

b)    infant perception of faces

Infants use faces for information and feedback. Recent research suggests human eyes are more visable in terms of where they are looking.

(But don't overlook the role of speech as cue for identity; what about blind individuals?)

2.    social communication--"motherese"

faces, melodies, and finally words  (Anne Fernald)

3.    joint attention (Tomasello)

Children seem to get this idea on their own but apes don't.  Some report that "enculturated" apes -- those raised in human environments -- do act more like human children in these situations.  

See how attentive the child is as Tomasello uses a new word, "monitoring" his expressions as feedback. Tomasello has also studied imitation or lack thereof in NHP. (Recall the Alda- Tomasello-orang-kid"rake" demonstrations video bit.)

4.    assumptions about other minds :"False-belief" task

This is a kind of projective task, used by Piaget (e.g. his three mountain task)  and expanded on by many investigators.

Piaget used this to assess a child's shift from an egocentric system of beliefs (everyone thinks the same), to a more "other" centered system where others can have different intentions, desires, beliefs, that may be discerned by watching and listening.


The "false belief" task tests the capacity to "read" minds of others and attribute other mind-like properties -- consciousness, and beliefs, and desires.  "What does Snoopy think is inside the box?" Between 3 and 5 years, the responses vary. Three year olds are egocentric and assume everyone has their beliefs-- that they always thought "candles" were in the crayon box and that others do too! Four year olds realize their intial mistake and recognize others will make that same error -- assuming crayons are in the crayon box.

Five year olds think its a stupid question!

Children develop the idea they are persons in a social group, with ethics and morals guiding behavior

5.    autism as "mind-blindness"

Baron-Cohen's idea that autism is failure to read minds.  It reflects failure to appreciate others have minds and overall rich imagination.  Hence loss of predictability of others actions.  Compare with Williams syndrome.  Is it a surprise that autism is somehow complementary to Williams syndrome? (Shows MRI scan study of response to mental state words.)

6.    facial expressions and smiling

a)    Ekmans's system for coding expressions

Ekman recently edited a version of Darwin's famous work on the expression of emotions.

Darwin, C. (1872/1998). The expression of emotions in man and animals: Definitive edition (Third edition with an Introduction, Afterward and Commentaries by Paul Ekman ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Darwin also notes that the "anthropoid apes possess the same facial muscles as we do" with references to several works including Owen 1830 on orangs and chimps by Macalister (1871).

"In comparison with man, their faces are inexpressive, chiefly owing to their not frowning under any emotion of the mind.p141. Darwin goes on about the frown muscles and his efforts to elicit frowns.

Darwin drew attention not only to the face but other parts of the body as expressive of emotions; of particular interest are the "social emotions"

"It is not the simple act of reflecting on our own appearance, but the thinking what others think of us, which excites a blush 325"

Darwin cites some interesting refs on effects of attention on various parts of the body "Mr Braid,1852, p.95 showing the great influence of the will on the mammary glands, even on one breast alone."  The consciousness of the various parts attended to is in various odd sensations "weight, heat, cold, tingling, or itching."

"The vocal ..organs I have elsewhere attempted show that  these organs were first developed for sexual purposes, in order that one sex  might call or charm the other 354...On the contrary, every true or inherited movement of expression seems to have had some natural and independent origin.  But when once acquired, such movements may be voluntarily and consciously employed as a means of communication"

" I have endeavored to show in considerable detail that all the chief expressions exhibited by man are the same throughout the world .. a new argument in favour of the several races being descended from a single parent-stock, which must have been almost completely human in structure and to a large extent in mind, before the period at which the races diverged from each other (comments on unikely parallel evolution "multitude of unimportant details")

Darwin, C. (1872/1965). Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

7.    social deception ("Machiavellian" intelligence)

The theme here is that having "theory of mind" enables one to not only predict others behavior more successfully but also deceive and manipulate that behavior as well.  Humans are very good at this.  The extent apes do this is minimal at first glance but is being investigated; see PC.

8.    Phineas Gage revisited

Damage to frontal areas reduces social cue perception.

a)    risk taking and the brain

Frontal lobe patients lose predictive ability; normals note risk situations and are sensitive to those tacit cues.   Patients with frontal lobe damage do not connect cues with consequences. 

9.    "the golden rule" --etched in our brain?

Detection of "cheaters" and sense of smaller community.

Altruism and enforcing of social norms.  See Darwin's comments above on blushing.