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CSS Colloquium - Svenja Matusall: Social in Social Neuroscience

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Monday 11 March 2013,  at 11:15 - 12:00

Social in Social Neuroscience

Svenja Matusall, MindLab and The Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University

This paper discusses the experimental and methodological frame of social neuroscience. Doing so it focuses on two issues, the social conditions of experimental settings and methods of locating sociality in the brain. Social neuroscience is a newly emerging research field investigating neural correlates of social behaviour and locating it in a bigger evolutionary perspective. While the field employs an array of methods, this paper concentrates on imaging studies with normal human subjects. Building on the presenter's ethnographic fieldwork, the complexity of social in social neuroscience experimentation is discussed, guided by two hypotheses: 1) the experimental situation is at the same time an unsocial and a social situation. While the participant is isolated in the scanner and a research object generating data, she is also entangled in complex social relations. The interaction between experimenter(s) and participant(s) is a vital feature for performing an experiment but it is neglected in interpreting results and designing an experiment. 2) The social is reduced to a psychological process within the individual brain for which the context is only relevant as an additional parameter but not meaningful in itself. Consequently, the social is located within the body and defined as a mere effect of biological processes. A final section of the paper discusses whether social neuroscience could develop into a new science of the social and how the notion of social would look like if it did.