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Director’s Welcome

Neuroscience refers to the collection of disciplines concerned with the structure and function of the nervous system and brain.

With more than 85 billion brain cells working together in malleable networks to produce our mind, consciousness, and behavior, and with each individual processing a slightly diffferent version, explorations of the human brain represents one of he last scientific frontiers.

The topic of study is so complex that it requires disparate basic, clinical, and applied disciplines to cover the terrain.  Within neuroscience are cross-cutting paradigms – general perspectives that underlie a range of theories and methodologies in the field.

Although scientific investigations of structure and function go hand in hand, differences in emphasis exist in this scientific frontier.  The emphasis in some of these perspectives is on identifying constituent structures at different levels of organization, such as neuroanatomy, neurobiology, and cellular neuroscience.  The emphasis on others is on the function of the brain and nervous system.  Illustrative of the latter is behavioral neuroscience, in which the nervous system and brain are viewed as instruments of sensation and response.

Research representing this perspective tends to focus on topics such as learning, memory, motivation, homeostasis, sleep and biological rhythms, and reproduction – and on the neural mechanisms underlying these behavioral functions. Cognitive neuroscience emerged as a distinct functional perspective in which the brain is viewed as a solitary information processing organ, with a focus on topics such as attention, perception, representations, decision-making, memory systems, heuristics, reasoning, and executive functioning –and on the neural mechanisms in the human brain that underlie these representations and processes.  Humans are fundamentally a social species, however, and social species, by definition, create organizations beyond the individual.

These superorganismal structures evolved hand in hand with psychological, neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms to support them because the consequent social behaviors helped these organisms survive, reproduce, and care for offspring sufficiently long that they too reproduced, thereby ensuring their genetic legacy.  Social neuroscience emerged as yet another distinct functional perspective to specify the neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms underlying social behavior, and in so doing to understand the associations and influences between social and biological levels of organization.

Such an endeavor is challenging because it necessitates the integration of multiple levels.

Mapping across systems and levels (from genome to social groups and cultures) requires interdisciplinary expertise, comparative studies, innovative methods, and integrative conceptual analysis.

The University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience (CCSN) facilitates these interdisciplinary investigations to better understand the functions of the brain and nervous system and their implications for human cognition, behavior, and societies.