, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 81-91

The neural basis of primate social communication

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Abstract

A sophisticated ability both to generate displays of emotion and to respond to expressive behaviors of other individuals has emerged as a specialization in the course of primate evolution. Studies of the social behavior of nonhuman primates, especially those most related to ourselves, indicate that monkeys and apes are able to interpret social signals so as to assess the motivations of others. Studies of brain activity in monkeys looking at pictures of faces, facial expressions, and body movements, reveal regions of apparent specialized responsiveness to visual social stimuli. The existence of a discrete neural system in humans for cognition which generates a psychological model of others is suggested by patterns of deficit seen in certain neurologic syndromes. Empathy has several components and appears to lie on an evolutionary continuum.

Based on a presentation given in New Orleans on February 17, 1990, at the AAAS symposium “Empathy in Infancy and Later Development.” Supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs.