Stress and the Social Brain

This is just a quick post to mention that our Formative Experiences co-editor – child psychiatrist Daniel S. Schechter of University of Geneva and Columbia University – is giving a talk on “Traumatic stress and mothers’ capacity to engage in mutual regulation of emotion with their very young children” as part of a symposium on “Stress, the Social Brain, and Psychopathology,” which will take place on March 14–15, 2011, in Lausanne, Switzerland. The meeting is hosted by Carmen Sandi’s group, the Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics, which is part of the Brain Mind Institute (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne).

For all of us who can’t make the conference, Dan has a terrific, comprehensive  essay featured in the February edition of  Cerebrum, a Dana Foundation publication, on “Forecasting aggression: Toward a new interdisciplinary understanding of what makes some troubled youth turn violent.”

Finally, a video of Bruce McEwen’s more general talk, “Neuroscience perspectives of stress and brain and body health: Importance of the social environment,” which he gave at the inaugural conference of the Society for Social Neuroscience, is available at the site.

Next FPR-UCLA Conference: The Emerging Neuroscience of Culture – Prospects and Challenges

Our next conference in tentatively planned for Fall 2012. Below is a preliminary description.

The FPR was founded Robert Lemelson, a psychological anthropologist, in 1999 to support and advance international, interdisciplinary research at the intersection biology and culture. Key objectives are to create, nurture, and sustain connections among anthropologists, research and clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and biologists who are interested in issues of fundamental social or clinical concern that challenge the adequacy of any single approach; to support and advance cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research and scholarship that integrate multiple levels of analysis; and to train the next generation of scholars and researchers who regard culture as a rich and multilayered construct, the understanding of which is critical for “making sense of the world.” The FPR’s close-knit scientific advisory board are internationally recognized leaders in the fields of anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, neurobiology, epidemiology, and public health. Areas of topical focus have ranged from the impact of psychologically traumatic experiences and other forms of human suffering on individuals and groups, the wide diversity in the regulation and expression of emotion across cultures, the formative effects of early life experiences in a variety of settings and developmental contexts, and the significance of culture and context in mental health and illness.

In a parallel development, the interdisciplinary field of cultural neuroscience was founded in 2007 by Joan Chiao, Shinobu Kitayama, Denise Park, Nalini Ambady, Angela Gutchess, Shihui Han, Georg Northoff, and colleagues to investigate how cultural and genetic factors influence basic psychological and neural processes underlying a range of mental processing from perception and cognition to emotion and social behavior. The “culture” in cultural neuroscience often refers to collective-level phenomenon consisting of a set of routine practices reflecting primary cultural values that are inscribed in the mind, brain, and genes over time. Much of the research to date is based on cultural psychology’s classic distinction between individualistic and collectivistic societies or independent vs. interdependent selves. Neural correlates of these characterizations have been robustly observed and compared across groups via methodologies like functional neuroimaging (fMRI) and event-related potentials (ERP).

Given our mutual interest in bio-cultural processes, the theme of the next FPR-UCLA interdisciplinary conference is “the emerging neuroscience of culture: prospects and challenges.” Over the next decade, we anticipate that aspects of human behavior will be increasingly understood from a more mechanistic, brain-based perspective. But we also recognize the critical significance of other, non-neuro-centric aspects of culture – systems of discourses, institutions, and beliefs – for understanding the different ways in which people live, organize, govern, and create meaning in global, national, and local contexts. The aim of this conference is to bring together anthropologists and neuroscientists in a relaxed and collegial setting (formal talks and lab and field case studies alternating with roundtable discussions) in which leading experts and a new generation of paradigm-bridging scholars and researchers can discuss and debate different concepts, theories, methodologies, and ideas for collaborative studies on biological and cultural interactions.