The Social Brain Project: Reading the mind and brain of people (SRP)

Coordinator: Frank Van Overwalle with the collaboration of Peter Mariën


"Women like to shop" and "Americans are fat" are examples of stereotypes. "My friend is handsome" and "My mother is anxious" are judgments about people we know well, which often also are quite accurate. We use stereotypes judgments about people to navigate through the social world. But what happens when we get information that goes against these stereotypes? Are all stereotypes and judgments resistant to change and how can we investigate this? How are stereotypes and judgments made in our brains? Where are the brain areas that make social judgments, and where are the groups and people we judge? How do we control our social behavior and the social context, and how do group norms have an impact on us? These are some of the questions that this project tries to answer.

The project is supported by researchers specialized in social neuroscience who study the mystery of the social brain. In social neuroscience, behavioral experiments and state-of-the art neuroimaging techniques like fMRI or TMS are used to explore which parts of our brains are active during certain social and cognitive processes. This tells us how we deal with other people, and the underlying mechanisms in our brains. For instance, what mechanisms ensure that we understand our own behavior and that of others in terms of their thoughts, intentions, interests, character traits.

Answers to these questions can provide information on a wide spectrum of topics such as mind reading (how spontaneous people infer goals and desires by observing them), autism (the lack of understanding of others) and paranoia (seeing too many hidden motives in others). Where we store information about traits and other people can tell us much about potential effects of brain damage by an accident or a stroke, and what impact this has on the social functioning of the patient.

The most important research questions in this project are...

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