Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Journal)

Timmermans, B. (Guest editor)

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal / publication series


Towards a neuroscience of social interaction (Research Topic)

The burgeoning field of social neuroscience has begun to illuminate the complex biological bases of human social cognitive abilities. However, in spite of being based on the premise of investigating the neural bases of interacting minds, the majority of studies have focused on studying brains in isolation using paradigms that investigate offline social cognition, i.e. social cognition from a detached observer's point of view, asking study participants to read out the mental states of others without being engaged in interaction with them. Consequently, the neural correlates of real-time social interaction have remained elusive and may —paradoxically— represent the 'dark matter' of social neuroscience.

More recently, a growing number of researchers have begun to study online social cognition, i.e. social cognition from a participant's point of view, based on the assumption that there is something fundamentally different when we are actively engaged with others in real-time social interaction as compared to when we merely observe them. Whereas, for offline social cognition, interaction and feedback are merely a way of gathering data about the other person that feeds into processing algorithms 'inside’ the agent, it has been proposed that in online social cognition the knowledge of the other —at least in part— resides in the interaction dynamics ‘between’ the agents. Furthermore being a participant in an ongoing interaction may entail a commitment toward being responsive created by important differences in the motivational foundations of online and offline social cognition.

In order to promote the development of the neuroscientific investigation of online social cognition, this Frontiers Research Topic aims at bringing together contributions from researchers in social neuroscience and related fields, whose work involves the study of at least two individuals and sometimes two brains, rather than single individuals and brains responding to a social context. Specifically, this special issue will adopt an interdisciplinary perspective on what it is that separates online from offline social cognition and the putative differences in the recruitment of underlying processes and mechanisms. Here, an important focal point will be to address the various roles of social interaction in contributing to and —at times— constituting our awareness of other minds. For this Research Topic, we, therefore, solicit reviews, original research articles, opinion and method papers, which address the investigation of social interaction and go beyond traditional concepts and ways of experimentation in doing so. While focusing on work in the neurosciences, this Research Topic also welcomes contributions in the form of behavioral studies, psychophysiological investigations, methodological innovations, computational approaches, developmental and patient studies.

By focusing on cutting-edge research in social neuroscience and related fields, this Frontiers Special Issue will create new insights concerning the neurobiology of social interaction and holds the promise of helping social neuroscience to really go social.
Type of journalJournal