The Social Brain

Pierre Jacob, Chris Frith and Uta Frith

May 20-22, 2009

The MIND Group – initiated and coordinated by Thomas Metzinger – is a group of young philosophers and scientists with a strong interest in questions concerning the mind, consciousness and cognition. The aim of the group is to build an international network of mentors and excellent junior researchers, and to integrate these different approaches to foster the development of advanced theories of the mind which incorporate most recent empirical findings as well as sophisticated conceptual work. Thus, one major purpose of the group is to help bridge the gap between sciences and humanities. The group’s meetings take place at least twice a year with public lectures by well-known cognitive scientists.

After the public lectures of the meeting "Levels of Embodiment" on 20 and 21 November, MIND 11 is the second collaboration between the MIND Group and the ICI Berlin. This time, however, the complete meeting will take place at the ICI Berlin. The title of the meeting is "The Social Brain" and public talks by speakers Pierre Jacob and Chris and Uta Frith will focus on different aspects of social cognition. Before the evening lecture on May 21st, the Barbara-Wengeler Prize to the amount of € 10.000 for outstanding interdisciplinary research in philosophy and the neurosciences will be presented to Saskia Nagel for her PhD thesis titled „Ethics and the Neurosciences – The Ethical and Social Implications of Monitoring and Manipulating the Brain”.


20 May, 18:15
Pierre Jacob, Mirroring, Imagining and Concept-Possession

The talk will examine the idea that in addition to what I shall call 'action-mirroring' (or 'motoric mirroring'), which is supposed to enable an observer to represent an agent's intention on the basis of the perception of her movements, there is a similar (if not identical) mechanism of non-motoric (or affective mirroring) that generates an observer's empathetic response to her perception of cues that another is experiencing some internal affective state (of e.g. disgust, pain or fear).

Pierre Jacob is President of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology and the Head of Institut Jean Nicod.


21 May

Award Ceremony of the Barbara-Wengeler-Preis to the amount of € 10.000 for Saskia Nagel for her PhD thesis titled „Ethics and the Neurosciences – The Ethical and Social Implications of Monitoring and Manipulating the Brain”.

Chris Frith, Our Social Brain
We humans are very social creatures. We are constantly sending out and responding to social signals. By measuring brain activity we find that most of these signals are transmitted and received without awareness, as in the contagious effects of fear, and in the mirroring of action and emotion. These inadvertent and contagious signals embed us in the social world and can make us behave in a more social manner, maximising gains for the group rather than for ourselves. Through becoming aware of this social signalling we can over-ride these effects. However, these high level ‘rational’ processes associated with the frontal cortex do not necessarily result in better or more socially oriented decisions.

Chris Frith is Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology, University College London and Niels Bohr Visiting Professor, Aarhus University.


22 May, 18:15
Uta Frith, What we learn from autism about the social brain
Our social capacities build on different neural systems, some of them very ancient. In autism social interaction and communication is severely impaired, and some specific social impairments have been related to a poorly functioning brain system, known as the ‘Mentalising system’. This system underlies the complex, but automatic ability to predict other people’s behaviour on the basis of their mental states. Thus, we intuitively attribute desires, knowledge and beliefs to others and ourselves. Evidence from brain imaging studies suggests that the different components involved in the Mentalising system are only weakly connected in autism. Remarkably, some social capacities are intact in autism, and the combination of deficits and islets of social ability can throw light on the structure of our social brain.

Uta Frith is Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, University College London and Aarhus University Research Foundation Professor



Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study & Philosophisches Seminar der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz


Barbara-Wengeler-Stiftung (München), Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study and ICI Berlin.

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