March 3, 2014

Book highlights memory’s role as social glue

Nathan Spreng
Spreng

Memory’s crucial impact on our ability to establish and maintain social bonds is the focus of a new book, “Examining the Role of Memory in Social Cognition” (Frontiers), edited by Cornell neuroscientist Nathan Spreng.

“The book brings together the first research on the linkages between memory and social behavior, processes traditionally studied separately,” said Spreng, assistant professor of human development and the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

“Remembering our own past and interpreting other people’s thoughts and feelings both activate similar neural pathways in the brain – a connection that may help us translate our personal experience into understanding others and navigating the complex dynamics of human social life,” he said.

“Discovery of the overlapping brain networks provided a clue about memory’s vital role in social interaction and inspired development of this first book on the topic,” he added.

In the book, neuroscientists and psychologists discuss their latest findings on topics such as how neural networks affect social abilities; how memory influences empathy; how aging affects memory and social abilities; how memory and social abilities are impacted by disorders such as schizophrenia and autism; and how amnesia and other memory impairments affect social abilities.

Intended for researchers and students in the fields of social and cognitive neuroscience, the book is a starting point for a line of cross-disciplinary research that may one day provide insights into how to improve social skills like empathy in healthy and impaired individuals, Spreng said.

Karene Booker is extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.