Psychology 841
2011. Vol.2, No.8, 841-845
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. doi:10.4236/psych.2011.28128
Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective for Unification
Wangbing Shen, Chang Liu, Yuan Yuan
Lab of Cognitive Neuroscience, School of Education Science, Nanjing Normal University,
Nanjing, China.
Received July 3rd, 2011; revised August 13rd 2011; accepted September21st, 201 1.
As a direct part of these disciplines which focuses on human’s soul and mind, psychology has a history of more
than one hundred years. However, there are still many people who have lots of doubts for psychology, especially
on the division and integration of psychology which dates back to Spence (1987). Many studies in the past have
sought for many paradigms to integrate psychology, but they failed, such as cognitive psychology paradigm.
One challenge to the traditional perspective comes from works of social cognitive neuroscience. More and more
specific studies showed that social cognitive neuroscience can integrate psychological science. Therefore, in-
creasing psychologists, including theoretical psychologists focus their sights on social cognitive neuroscience.
The article gave an overview analysis to those problems, including the integration from social cognitive neuro-
science is possible and its prospect framework of integration.
Keywords: Social Cognitive Neuroscience, Psychology, Humanity Hypothesis, Psy-DNA Model
What’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience?
Social cognitive neuroscience (SCN) dated back to the be-
ginning of twenty-first century. Oschner and Lieberman (2001)
gave a concrete interpreting for SCN. They pointed out that
SCN evolved from the interdisciplinary combination between
social psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Meanwhile, they
also argued that its goal seemed to understand phenomena in
terms of interactions across three levels, including social, cog-
nitive and neural. In particular, the name SCN denotes the in-
terdisciplinary nature of this field, and emphasizes the charac-
teristic of integrating data from multiple levels ranged from
individual experience and behavior in the social contexts (social
level) to information processing mechanisms giving rise to
those phenomena (cognitive level) to the brain base (neural
SCN is still relatively new; however, it builds on a lot of well
established disciplines including social psychology, develop-
mental psychology and cognitive psychology, evolutionary
biology, neuropsychology and computer science. Each provides
a solid basis of relevant research for SCN from different aspects
(Blakemore, Winston, & Frith, 2004). In particularly, those
studies on social cognition contribute more to the development
of SCN, including stereotype, attitude forming and or attitude
change, social judgment, self-knowledge and the interaction
between emotion and cognition. Then, the technologies such as
brain imaging or event related potentials (ERPs) contribute to it.
In a word, SCN encompasses numerous empirical studies on
neural mechanism underlying social cognitive process (Blake-
more, Winston, & Frith, 2004), and those studies on general
cognitive process such as perception, language and memory.
Could SCN Integrate Psychological Science?
When we argue that SCN will integrate different fields of
psychological science, there are many researchers or studies
maybe question that why would be SCN, not others, and how
does SCN integrate those divided approaches. We will discuss
these problems in the following. However, we have to intro-
duce the concept and construct of humanity hypothesis which
the integration depends.
Humanity Hypothesis Is the Beginning of Unification
In general, there are two approaches in psychological science.
One is human science approach, the other is natural science
approach. The former is mainly guided by phenomenological
philosophy, whereas the latter is instructed by empirical phi-
losophy. Just so, those two guidelines result in they are differ-
ent not only in their views but also in their methods. Specifi-
cally, human science approach in psychology mainly employs
qualitative paradigm. It pays more attention to unique value of
person because it believes that there is important difference
between person and machine such as computer, or animals such
as Thorndike’s cat or Tolman’s rat. In contrast, the natural sci-
ence approach of psychology mainly argues that the psyche or
mind can be reduced to logic or processing of machine or oth-
ers, such as some activities of animals. Also for this, many
radical theoretical psychologists name it reductionist. Hence,
there is a great gap between these two approaches in method-
ology and method. As many textbooks mentioned, the former
investigate psychological process and cognitive mechanism
mainly depending on narrative analysis or other phenomenol-
ogical methods, whereas the latter do this primarily depending
on quantitive measures such as lab experiment and psychologi-
cal test.
According to the aforementioned, there is a great difference
between these two approaches ranging from guidelines to
methods. People should realize that how different they are,
although they all belong to psychological science. In this sense,
they all explore and try to clarify humanity. Namely, there is a
consensus between them. In sum, they want to explore and
discuss mind and behaviors of human being.
Unified Humanity Determines Unification Psychology
In psychology, there are numerous humanity hypotheses,
such as “self-realization human” hypothesis and “complex hu-
man” hypothesis. Different approaches of psychology are de-
veloped based on different humanity hypotheses. For example,
our humanistic psychology was developed by Maslow based on
self-realization human hypothesis. If we want to investigate the
reasons of division in psychological science, we will find that
humanity hypothesis plays an important role in it. Why is it?
Because those humanity hypotheses are so different that they
guided different approaches. However, those hypotheses reach
little consensus. That is, those approaches of psychology which
based on different or contrary humanity hypotheses share little
similarity. Hence, different humanity hypotheses, to some ex-
tent, result in the division of psychology.
When you critically reviewed those humanity hypotheses,
you will find that each of them is not appropriate, because they
only focuses on one side of humanity. In other words, human
nature has been constructed different second-order humanities
clarified by different humanity hypotheses. Second-order hu-
man nature is based on humanity on high ground, not primary
and low ground, such as morality which was not based on basic
and low ground, but based on high ground (similar to a noble
person rather than an usual person). One prominent problem on
humanity hypothesis is that it only focuses on social or psy-
chological aspect of human nature, rather than every side of
humanity. In such sense, a humanity hypothesis determines
which direction psychological science goes ahead. If humanity
is unified, people will perhaps have a unification psychology.
To resolve such sharp difference in the literature, it is neces-
sary to construct a new and unified humanity hypothesis. Thus,
we try to propose a unified humanity hypothesis (see Figure 1).
The investigators believe that humanity includes different ele-
ments. Humanity co-evolved with sociality, physic nature, bio-
logical basis and experience or culture. Meanwhile, humanity is
evolving with the growth of a person.
Do Those Relate to SCN?
Although previous content showed that humanity hypothesis
seems to play a critical role in unification psychology, it has
nothing with SCN. If so, why does SCN integrate psychological
science? First, we should argue for SCN, because SCN relate to
humanity hypothesis, and even to integration of psychology
The main task of psychology is exploring consciousness and
mind of human being. However, our behaviors and minds are
shaped by our experiences and their underlying neurophysi-
ologic mechanisms. Among these, our experiences often occur
Figure 1.
Humanity hypothesis.
in the context of the nurture, or mainly culture in which we
develop and live, while, neurophysiologic mechanisms of our
behaviors and minds mainly determined by our genes and brain,
which influenced and even decided by our parents. In a word,
our behaviors and minds are mainly determin e d by thei r ge n eti c
background and their experiences, thee former also named na-
ture, the later nurture.
What we have referred, SCN combines mainly cognitive
neuroscience and social psychology. However, an important
goal of social neuroscience research is to understand the basic
genetic and neurobiological mechanisms underlying human
sociality. Although this information can then be used for the
development of novel treatment strategies for clinical disorders
associated with disrupted social behaviors. Unfortunately, basic
and clinical human research has been severely limited in its
ability to dissect the complex interactions of genes, the envi-
ronment, and the neural mechanisms underlying normal social
processes (Cacioppo, Amaral et al., 2007). It is not difficult to
find that SCN try to understand neural basis of our behaviors
and their underlying phenomena meaning. Meanwhile, we also
understand these relationships between humanity and SCN. As
noted above, SCN builds on a variety of well established disci-
plines including social, developmental and cognitive psychol-
ogy, evolutionary biology, neuropsychology and computer
science, especially social psychology and cognitive neurosci-
ence. What we should emphasize, social psychologies mainly
focus on social phenomena and its psychological meanings,
cognitive neuroscience mainly pay attention to neural or
physiological basis of minds and behaviors. However, human-
ity is mainly influenced by such two factors. Therefore, SCN
relate to humanity hypothesis, and even to integration of psy-
chology science.
SCN Integrates Psychology: A Framework
Psy-DNA Model
In this respective, we proposed a unification framework cor-
responding to our humanity hypothesizes, which named Psy-
DNA model and dated back to Wundt and inspired by Wason
and Crick’s DNA model (see Figure 2). In Wundt’s time,
Wundt has tried to sketch a blueprint of psychology system. His
works of “Contribution to the theory of sensory perception”
depict a young scientist’s dream; he originally proposed a great
idea that he wants to construct a discipline composed by both
experiment psychology and social psychology. What we should
point is that the underlying understandings of so-called experi-
ment psychology and folk psychology, at least in following
understanding of both. In classical works of psychology,
Wundt’s experiment psychology more has been viewed physic-
ological psychology, which acquired their results and conclu-
sion by experiment, including experiment in the labs or in the
field. However, there are many different viewpoints or opinions
focus on the understanding of Wundt’s folk psychology, some
studies believe in that there is not any difference between cul-
ture psychology and folk psychology, some researchers argued
that the meaning of folk psychology is equal to social psychol-
ogy, although more people argued for the latter. In Wundt’s
following works, such as “The Principles of Physiological Psy-
chology”, he has given a more specific and detailed elaboration
for his science dream in its preamble. According to his clarifi-
cation in “The Principles of Physiological Psychology”, the
folk psychology refers to the latter subject who includes more
ifferent fields, such as law, art and morality which related to
W. B. SHEN ET AL. 843
Figure 2.
Psy-DNA Model.
social phenomenon. That is, the Psy-DNA model is developed
from Wundt’s psychology system.
Psy-DNA model outlined a framework for the study of psy-
chology integration, currently one of the liveliest topics in the
theoretical psychology. The framework has come to be known
as Psychology DNA model (Psy-DNA), because it seeks to
describe the means and constructions of psychology science by
using concepts and models similar to those used in Wason and
Crick’s DNA program in biology. Psy-DNA model shared
many features with others important research programs in psy-
chology and neuroscience, particularly an emphasis on de-
scribing the interdisciplinary principle of psychology unifica-
tion, Such as evolutionary neuroscience or cognitive neurosci-
ence, even cognitive psychology. However, Psy-DNA model
has some distinct characteristics that set it apart from other
influential approaches, especially from biological DNA model.
for example it has involved four different aspects of construct
which named meta-theory, substantive theory, implicit theory
and explicit theory. Among these, meta theory and substantive
theory construct covariant, they focus on different aspects of
psychology science, meta theory mainly focus on “theory on
theory” like “cognition on cognition”, however, substantive
theory pay more attention to the construction of basic theory
and theoretical interpreting for social phenomena and behaviors.
Similarly, implicit theory and explicit theory mainly focus on
distinctive aspects of some phenomenon and behavior. Specifi-
cally, implicit theory mainly concerns on implicit aspect of
behavior or mind, but explicity theory pay more attention to
explicit aspect. Furthermore, the double helix of DNA model as
a metaphor of two kinds of method in psychology science,
namely quantitative method and qualitative method. These two
different method-linkages spiral change with Psy-DNA model
like double helix of DNA.
Initial Evidence
Initial evidence supporting Psy-DNA model mainly comes
from biology, philosophy, methodology, psychology and SCN.
None of that evidence is univocal or conclusive, however, it
provides at least modest support for the hypothesis social cog-
nitive integrate psychological science.
First, various philosophy studies revealed the development of
one thing does not go beyond the alternative one directly. Psy-
DNA model agrees with philosophical principle. Those two
different approaches are contradictory, but they are a unity of
opposites not only in method (quantitative vs. qualitative) but
also in research paradigm (scientism vs. humanism). In Psy-
DNA model, two different method-linkages stand for the two
different approaches, namely scientism approach and human-
ism approach in psychological science.
Second, many methodological studies indicated that no mat-
ter which method it is, it had disadvantages and advantages.
That is, no one goes beyond the other in any way. Instead, most
methods or approaches are internally modulated. Furthermore,
they cross-talk and interactively influence and then reach a
cross-develop. As developed psychological methods, studies
revealed that different psychological methods also communi-
cated with each other. They did not argue against each other,
only reach a compromise.
Third, Psy-DNA model is supported by DNA model pro-
posed by Watson and Crick. They pointed out that DNA struc-
ture included a double helix composed by four different types
of bases. The P-DNA model also has double helix linkages.
Those two linkages are psychological method and research
approach, respectively. One stands for quantitative method or
empirical approach, and the other stands for qualitative method
or qualitative approach. However, according to analogism the-
ory proposed by Guangjian Zhang and Xueshen Qian, one im-
portant advance not only takes an important influence in one
field, but also influences its adjacent fields. That is, DNA
model perhaps does not appear in biology, it or its proxy
probably appears in other disciplines, such as psychology sci-
Finally, more direct evidence supporting such a unification
model come from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Be-
sides those supporting from Wundt’s studies, there are many
evidence from cognitive psychology and functional imaging
researches, such as those studies on dual process of explicit and
implicit processing. In social and cognitive psychology, this
view has been widely accepted. Many researches showed that
there are two processes play roles in decision making, social
judgment and problem solving (Greene et al., 2008, 2004;
Hadit, 2001; Chaiken & Trope, 1999; Shen & Liu, 2010).
Meanwhile, they found that there are two systems underlying
cognitive process, which typically run in parallel and could
reach differential conclusions. Just for this, such models are
usually called as dual process model. Dual process has a pow-
erful influence on memory, arithmetic, deduction reason, moral
judgment, decision-making and social evaluation. Although it
comes forth as different form in different psychological process
or states (i.e., attitude or personality), it shares the same char-
acteristics. One processing is explicit and influenced by cogni-
tive load, the other is implicit and automatic (Shen & Liu,
2010). Similarly, there are also much evidence supporting the
construct of meta-theory and substantive theory, such as meta-
cognition and cognition.
Evidence from SCN Studies
Recently, the emerging SCN has also get many results and
conclusions which consistent with Psy-DNA, Such as morality .
Although morality evolve both by biological basis and social
development, we often view it influenced and developed by
social interaction and inter and or intra relationships. Therefore,
most psychologists get an impact that morality is a social phe-
nomenon, mainly researched by ethicists. Piaget broke out such
tradition, becomes a moral psychologist. Then more and more
psychology studies focus on morality by psychology methods,
such as Kohlberg.
As the development of cognitive neuroscience and emerging
of SCN, some scientists studied morality by functional imaging
technologies, such as fMRI. Greene et al. (2001) investigated
moral judgment by presenting participants moral dilemmas. In
this experiment two types of dilemmas were contrasted, repre-
sented by dilemmas, such as the “trolley dilemma” and the
“footbridge dilemma”. In these impersonal dilemmas like trol-
ley dilemma the participant is asked to consider the following
situation: A run away trolley is quickly approaching a fork in
the tracks. On the tracks extending to the right is a single rail-
way workman. If one does nothing, the trolley will proceed to
the left, causing the deaths of the five workmen. The only way
to avoid the deaths of these workmen is to hit a switch on your
dashboard that will cause the trolley to the right railway, but
this will cause the single workman die. After presenting this
story, the participant in the experiment is asked to respond
whether it is appropriate to hit the switch to avoid the deaths of
the five workmen. In the footbridge dilemma the situation is
slight ly different. Ag ain, a run away trolley is heading down the
tracks toward five workmen who will be killed if the trolley
proceeds on its present course. The participant now has imag-
ined on a footbridge being on a footbridge over the tracks and
in between the approaching trolley and the five workmen. Next
on the footbridge stand a large stranger. The only way to save
the lives of the five workmen is to push the large stranger off
the bridge and onto the tracks below. The stranger who will
lose his life is so large that he can stop the trolley, but you are
so thin that you can’t. After presenting this situation, the par-
ticipants again were asked to respond whether it is appropriate
to push the stranger onto the tracks to save the five workmen.
By comparing neural activity during reasoning about these
different types of dilemmas, they found moral judgment is
co-determined by irrational and rational processing, and the
former mainly include emotion while the latter mainly include
cognition. Specifically, irrational processing involved in per-
sonal dilemmas like footbridge dilemma mainly activated me-
dial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex and the
posterior superior temporal sulcus. However, whereas retional
processing involved in personal dilemmas like trolley dilemma
mainly activated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and inferior
parietal lobe. Then Moll et al. (2001, 2002), Koenigs et al.
(2007a, 2007b) and Greene (2004, 2008) have also studied the
neural activity of morality. Like this, there are many studies
focusing on other social cognition, such as theory of mind and
other cognition, such as the neural activity of memory or arith-
In sum, there is great difference between SCN and traditional
cognitive neuroscience. SCN not only focuses on neural activ-
ity underlying social phenomena, but also on social meaning of
it. Importantly, it build a connection between physiological
basis and social phenomena, not single social phenomena like
social psychology and not single physiological basis in physio-
logical psychology or neuroscience. It maps social phenomena
to its neural activity, which contacts social psychology with
physiological psychology. In other word, it also maps person’s
social behaviors to its underlying neural basis. Besides, SCN is
different for cognitive neuroscience, it not only focus on tradi-
tional “cognition”, but also on emotion and other social phe-
Conclusion Remarks
The goal of this paper seems to discuss the framework on
unification psychology at an aspect of human humanity. Al-
though we give a blueprint of unification psychology from SCN
perspective, it still needs further studies in detail.
From SCN perspective, the mechanisms underlying mind
and behaviors are not fully explained by either biological or
social approach rather than an interaction even multilevel inte-
grative analysis if necessary. All human behaviors and mind
that psychology investigates, to some extent, are biological.
However, it does not support that biological reductionism could
produce a simple, singular, or satisfactory explanation for vari-
ous and complex behaviors. In other words, we do not believe
that neural representation or molecular mechanism can provide
a unique way or the best interpreting for understanding human-
ity and their behaviors (Cacioppo, Berntson, Sheridan, &
McClintock, 2000). Within those disciplines of psychology, our
mind and behavior are shaped by two factors, namely social
environment and biological basis. However, those specific
studies are explored and fulfilled by different fields of psycho-
logical science. It implies that if people want to understand
human and humanity, they need integrate those different fields,
even unified psychology. In fact, physiological psychology
focuses on neural substrates and brain mechanisms for behav-
iors, whereas social psychology emphasizes multivariate sys-
tem and situational effects in studying the impact of human
association on mind and behavior (Cacioppo, Berntson, Sheri-
dan, & McClintock, 2000). The aforementioned approaches
directly result in different analytical level of human mind and
behavior. In a word, people should view human mind and be-
havior from an integrative respective, especially for the unifica-
tion perspective of social influences, physiological basis and
W. B. SHEN ET AL. 845
their connections.
In summary, the present paper only provides a preliminary
framework from SCN and some initial evidence, it is very nec-
essary to bridge the gap between initial exploration and pro-
grammatic experiment. Thus, it is extremely important to in-
vestigate further studies in detailed.
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