Jan. 6, 2010
Martha Koontz, 404-413-5464
Center for Behavioral Neuroscience
ATLANTA - Researchers with the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, headquartered at Georgia State University, are developing research ideas to investigate the fundamental neuroscience of positive emotions and social traits such as social bonding, tolerance, trust, altruism, cooperation, empathy and hope.
"While the study of positive emotions has now become a vibrant component of several areas of social science, far less work has been done on the fundamental neural processes related to positive emotional and social states," said CBN Director Elliott Albers. "The CBN wishes to build complementary work in neuroscience in this area by stimulating new advances in basic neuroscience research focused on social bonding."
The effort is supported by a Templeton Foundation planning grant.
The study of positive emotions has been defined as a fairly new branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. These strengths and virtues have been labeled with terms such as altruism, social bonding and prosocial behavior - caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for others, and acting in ways that benefit others.
The overarching question addressed in the research is how prosocial behaviors came to exist in a world where individuals compete for the essentials to live and survive. The ultimate goal of the CBN's research program is to understand the neural bases of prosocial behaviors and how such behaviors arose in humans.
To reach their goal, CBN collaborators will conduct in-depth research on the hypothesis that neural mechanisms promoting the mother-infant bond - which is well-developed in the mammalian species - are the foundations for the evolution of social processes, including empathy, cooperation and social bonding.
CBN scientists from this group also propose that many of the processes underlying empathy in humans are manifest in parental behaviors, therefore suggesting the degree to which appropriate parental behaviors are observed in an individual may correlate with the degree of empathetic response.
The research will focus on five basic neurobiological areas or systems to evaluate these hypotheses, including cognition, emotion, the neuroendocrine system, neurophysiology and neural structure, and connectivity.
"The specific projects will investigate one or more of these factors in a comparative context making it possible to evaluate the extent to which species vary in these areas and how these areas interact to determine prosociality of different species, and how similar endpoints may be achieved through the interactions of different mechanisms," Albers said.
The CBN includes Georgia State University, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College. More than 100 neuroscientists are engaged in research programs with the goal of understanding the basic neurobiology of social behaviors.
The CBN will host a symposium this spring about this topic. Updates, including date and location, will appear in upcoming issues of the Synapse newsletter and online at www.cbn-atl.org.