Neuro-Psychological and Socio-Institutional Foundations of Pro-Social Behavior.

A Research Project Funded by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

Program Outline

Neuro-psychological and Socio-Institutional Foundations of Human Sociality

Humans are fundamentally social creatures. They cannot be indifferent to the presence and behaviour of other humans, either positively or negatively. Prosociality and antisociality are parts of us which we cannot escape. However, admitting the fact that we are fundamentally social creatures, for better or for worse, does not mean that we are at the mercy of "human nature.” The fundamental understanding shared by people who advanced this research project is that the best path to building a better society for all of us to live in is not denying the presence of either the positive or the negative streaks in us. Instead, we need to be promoting our scientific knowledge of what they are, where they came from, and how they affect the way we build our society. This is exactly what we aspire to do through this research project. While we emphasize the positive side of human sociality in the title, our interest is not limited only to this side of the coin.

This project was launched in June of 2011 when a group of psychologists, a sociologist, and a neuro-scientist, Toshio Yamaigshi, Masamichi Sakagami, Toko Kiyonari, and Mizuho Shinada, were awarded a research grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, #23223003. The research activities funded by this grant are scheduled to be completed by March of 2016. As the central theoretical backbone of our project we have adopted the social niche constructionist approach. This view compels us to analyze human sociality—including both prosociality such as sympathy, empathy, reciprocity, the concern for fairness, and so on, as well as antisociality such as aggression, spite, discrimination, etc.—in terms of human adaptation to their respective environments, especially to their social environments. One unique feature of the social niche constructionist approach is the realization that this social environment is the collective product the people who take part in it. Thus, by adapting to a social environment, people collectively create that very environment.

The research activities of this project hinge on the process and outcomes of the co-evolution of neuro-psychological mechanisms and socio-institutional arrangements, providing the project with both an inter-cultural and an inter-disciplinary flavour. International and inter-cultural collaboration is essential to our research, and so is collaboration between neuro-scientists, psychologists, and social scientists. We are hoping to make progress in the following two research areas. One is the study of other-regarding behaviour, both its positive and negative aspects, in the context of experimental games. The experimental protocols in this research area are relatively well developed, and thus inter-cultural comparisons should be easy to conduct with a reasonable level of compatibility. The other main area of interest is the investigation of neural activities that are behind the game behavior observed in the first area of research activities. Pursued together, these two goals will help promote the scientific understanding of human sociality.