Social cognition refers to a set of processes, ranging from perception to decision-making, underlying the ability to decode others' intentions and behaviors to plan actions fitting with social and moral, besides individual and economic considerations. Its centrality in everyday life reflects the neural complexity of social processing and the ubiquity of social cognitive deficits in different pathological conditions. Social cognitive processes can be clustered in three domains associated with (a) perceptual processing of social information such as faces and emotional expressions (social perception), (b) grasping others' cognitive or affective states (social understanding), and (c) planning behaviors taking into consideration others', in addition to one's own, goals (social decision-making). We review these domains from the lens of cognitive neuroscience, i.e., in terms of the brain areas mediating the role of such processes in the ability to make sense of others' behavior and plan socially appropriate actions. The increasing evidence on the "social brain" obtained from healthy young individuals nowadays constitutes the baseline for detecting changes in social cognitive skills associated with physiological aging or pathological conditions. In the latter case, impairments in one or more of the abovementioned domains represent a prominent concern, or even a core facet, of neurological (e.g., acquired brain injury or neurodegenerative diseases), psychiatric (e.g., schizophrenia), and developmental (e.g., autism) disorders. To pave the way for the other papers of this issue, addressing the social cognitive deficits associated with severe acquired brain injury, we will briefly discuss the available evidence on the status of social cognition in normal aging and its breakdown in neurodegenerative disorders. Although the assessment and treatment of such impairments is a relatively novel sector in neurorehabilitation, the evidence summarized here strongly suggests that the development of remediation procedures for social cognitive skills will represent a future field of translational research in clinical neuroscience.
- Neurodegenerative Diseases/pathology
- Social Behavior