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Seven computations of the social brain

Molapour, Tanaz and Hagan, Cindy C. and Silston, Brian and Wu, Haiyan and Ramstead, Maxwell and Friston, Karl and Mobbs, Dean (2021) Seven computations of the social brain. Social Congnitive and Affective Neuroscience, 16 (8). pp. 745-760. ISSN 1749-5016. PMCID PMC8343565. doi:10.1093/scan/nsab024.

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The social environment presents the human brain with the most complex information processing demands. The computations that the brain must perform occur in parallel, combine social and nonsocial cues, produce verbal and nonverbal signals and involve multiple cognitive systems, including memory, attention, emotion and learning. This occurs dynamically and at timescales ranging from milliseconds to years. Here, we propose that during social interactions, seven core operations interact to underwrite coherent social functioning; these operations accumulate evidence efficiently—from multiple modalities—when inferring what to do next. We deconstruct the social brain and outline the key components entailed for successful human–social interaction. These include (i) social perception; (ii) social inferences, such as mentalizing; (iii) social learning; (iv) social signaling through verbal and nonverbal cues; (v) social drives (e.g. how to increase one’s status); (vi) determining the social identity of agents, including oneself and (vii) minimizing uncertainty within the current social context by integrating sensory signals and inferences. We argue that while it is important to examine these distinct aspects of social inference, to understand the true nature of the human social brain, we must also explain how the brain integrates information from the social world.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Molapour, Tanaz0000-0003-0419-9574
Hagan, Cindy C.0000-0002-4576-7120
Wu, Haiyan0000-0001-8869-6636
Ramstead, Maxwell0000-0002-1477-8177
Friston, Karl0000-0001-7984-8909
Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Additional Information:© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Received: 05 October 2019; Revision received: 01 December 2020; Editorial decision: 20 February 2021; Accepted: 24 February 2021; Published: 25 February 2021. Dean Mobbs is supported by US National Institute of Mental Health grant 2P50MH094258 and a Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience Award (P2026052); Tanaz Molapour was supported by Vetenskapsrådet (project 2017-00524). All authors declare no conflict of interest.
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for NeuroscienceP2026052
Swedish Research Council2017-00524
Subject Keywords:mentalizing, social signaling, active inference, external/internal self
Issue or Number:8
PubMed Central ID:PMC8343565
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210301-080146397
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Tanaz Molapour, Cindy C Hagan, Brian Silston, Haiyan Wu, Maxwell Ramstead, Karl Friston, Dean Mobbs, Seven computations of the social brain, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 16, Issue 8, August 2021, Pages 745–760,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108238
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:01 Mar 2021 17:33
Last Modified:11 Aug 2021 16:56

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