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Published August 2021 | Published
Journal Article Open

Seven computations of the social brain


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.

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), 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.

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August 20, 2023
October 23, 2023