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Jean Decety

University of Chicago
Building bridges between social sciences and biological sciences: the scope of social neuroscience
01 March 2021 -
30 June 2021

Jean Decety is a French-American neuroscientist. He is the Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago and its College. Decety is the director of the Child Neurosuite and the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. He is a leading scholar on the social neuroscience of empathy, morality and prosocial behavior, as well as other topics related to the neurobiology of social cognition. His work has led to new understandings of socio-affective processes and moral decision-making in typically developing children and adults, as well as forensic psychopaths. His research uses brain neuroimaging techniques (structural, functional MRI and high-density EEG), psychology, and behavioral economics to determine how biological and social factors interact in contributing to social-decision making and the motivation to care for the well-being of others. Decety’s current developmental work focusses on the impact of resource scarcity and group dynamics on children’s moral cognition, distributive justice decisions, and considerations of fairness and equity. This project is conducted across countries in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Middle East and South East Asia.

Research Interests

Behavioral economics, Developmental psychology, Morality, Neurobiology, Sociality, Social decision-making.

Building bridges between social sciences and biological sciences: The scope of social neuroscience

When interdisciplinary analyses integrate approaches from the social sciences and biological sciences, they significantly expand theoretical knowledge. The theoretical insights gleaned also have the potential to improve social and material living conditions. Social neuroscience is an academic discipline that examines how the brain mediates social cognition and behavior. It provides an overarching paradigm to investigate human behavior, and to determine where we, as a species, fit within a broader biological context. Many biological processes, rather than being fixed, immutable mechanisms that consign people to particular life outcomes, are instead fluid, dynamic responses to features of the social and physical environments humans inhabit. The emphasis of social neuroscience is on the functions that emerge through the coaction and interaction of conspecifics, the biological mechanisms underlying these functions, and the commonality and differences across social species. It is a complex inter-disciplinary perspective that demands theoretical, methodological, statistical, and inferential rigor to effectively integrate knowledge across levels of analysis, from cells to societies. The aim of this collaborative research project is to contribute to the interaction between the biological sciences and the social sciences, trace causation across levels of organization, identify fertile paradigms and areas of future inquiry, all while illuminating the societal implications of that knowledge beyond academia.

Contemporary period (1789-…)
World or no region