The social brain: Timing and loclisation of spontaneous and intentional person inferences

Project Details


Recent research using event-related potential (ERP) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques has made important progress in the understanding of how the brain is involved in social cognition processes, such as judgments about a person's goals and traits. On the basis of a meta-analysis of over 100 fMRI studies on social judgments conducted in the last decade, Van Overwalle (2008) concluded that there is robust evidence showing that some areas in the brain are preferentially involved in social inferences about the self and other persons. His analysis showed that temporary goals and beliefs are subtended mainly by the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), whereas stable traits and scripts are predominantly represented in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Although this research has increased our knowledge on the neural underpinnings of social inferences for the self and other persons, past results are sometimes difficult to interpret because neuroscience researchers have seldom investigated automatic or spontaneous processes and focused mainly on explicit task instructions that may have interfered with these spontaneous social processes. Moreover, to date little progress has been made in the understanding of the specific neurological and mental processes underlying these inferences, including inferences about (hidden) goals, (false or true) beliefs and traits of the self and other people. Thus, there are many unanswered questions on how social inferences are formed in general, as well as how specific inferences differ from each other.
The aim of this proposal is to address these two concerns. We first discuss the issue of spontaneous versus intentional inferences as the relative neglect of spontaneous social processes may severely hamper the interpretation of past and future social neuroscientific findings. We then explore the similarities and differences between specific inferences about individual persons, including the self.
Effective start/end date1/01/0930/09/13

Flemish discipline codes

  • Psychology and cognitive sciences


  • Neuropsychology
  • Emotions
  • Attribution
  • Sleep
  • Personality (Disorders)
  • Psychodiagnosis
  • Psychological Assessment
  • Connectionism