Neuroscience of Social Behavior and Emotional Disorders


About this course

In social behavior there is a thin line between sanity and insanity. In order to function healthily within our complex society social behavior should be fluid, ever-changing and highly dependent on the situation and context. If someone cannot express social behavior in such a context-dependent manner, he or she might get into trouble. If this happens in a chronic fashion, he or she is at risk for developing psychopathology.

Yet, our social brain has evolved during a much simpler time. Arguably our social brain has developed to empathize and share resources with the (extended) family or tribe, to apply moral standards within, but not outside, this group, to gain rewards for this group only, even at the cost of others. As such, a large part of our social behavior is driven by simple evolutionary principles like fear, reward drive and aggression, which in the complex society we now live in can easily go wrong. Indeed, the psychopath might have been a successful war-leader long ago, but will nowadays be imprisoned.
The relatively young fields of social and affective neuroscience try to explain normal and abnormal human behavior in terms of this evolutionary origin and its underlying biology, and this is what we will try to teach you in this course. In a multidisciplinary fashion you will learn how complex social behaviors like morality and empathy arise from a brain network that has evolved to support much simpler mechanisms. You will learn the social brain’s basic anatomy, how this brain is driven by simple hormonal mechanisms, how these factors can underlie complex social behavior, and how they influence psychopathology in its many forms.

Aspects of academic development

  • extracting the main points of theories, findings and models in social neuroscience;

  • comparing different theories and models of social neuroscience by detecting the differences and similarities between them;

  • application of theoretical knowledge to case studies; using theories and models in social neuroscience to explain behavioral phenomena;

  • integrating and analyzing of information from different scientific sources;

  • using scientific papers for written and verbal argumentation;

  • using databases for scientific publications (e.g., PubMed, PsycInfo, Google Scholar) for literature research;

  • selecting relevant information from literature to use for written assignment;

  • training in scientific writing, presentation and debate in English;

  • using information from different levels of analysis (behavioral, physiological and neural) and thus different scientific disciplines (Neuroscience and Social Psychology) in order to answer a research question in social neuroscience.

This course stands on its own but it is also the first course for the minor Social Neuroscience.

The entire course will be taught in English. This also includes assignments and exams.

Learning outcomes

After completing this course, the student:

  • can describe the main social neuroscientific theories and methodologies

  • can describe the anatomy of the social brain in terms of a brain-network and its main structures

  • can describe the chemistry of the social brain in terms of hormonal mechanisms

  • can apply his/her knowledge on anatomy and hormones to explain social behavior, its underlying principles and its evolutionary origin

  • can apply his/her anatomical, endocrine and behavioral knowledge to explain emotional disorders

  • can formulate his/her own, scientifically based, ideas on how emotional disorders can inform us on healthy social brain and behavior, and vice versa

Relation between assessment and objective
Knowledge of the theoretical part of the course, as well as the ability to use this knowledge to explain normal and abnormal social behavior from a neuroscientific point of view, will be tested by the exam(s). Furthermore, scientific debate, writing and presentation on the relationship between brain and social behavior as well as the ability to formulate social neuroscientific research ideas will be tested in small group working sessions and with the associated writing assignments.

Required prior knowledge

You must meet the following requirements

Link to more information

If anything remains unclear, please check the FAQ of Utrecht University.


  • Start date

    2 September 2024

    • Ends
      8 November 2024
    • Term *
      Period 1
    • Location
    • Instruction language
    • Register between
      3 Jun, 08:00 - 21 Jun 2024
    Enrolment starts in 5 days
These offerings are valid for students of TU Eindhoven