The neuroscience of social feelings: mechanisms of adaptive social functioning

Paul J. Eslinger, Silke Anders, Tommaso Ballarini, Sydney Boutros, Sören Krach, Annalina V. Mayer, Jorge Moll, Tamara L. Newton, Matthias L. Schroeter, Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, Jacob Raber, Gavin B. Sullivan, James E. Swain, Leroy Lowe, Roland Zahn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Social feelings have conceptual and empirical connections with affect and emotion. In this review, we discuss how they relate to cognition, emotion, behavior and well-being. We examine the functional neuroanatomy and neurobiology of social feelings and their role in adaptive social functioning. Existing neuroscience literature is reviewed to identify concepts, methods and challenges that might be addressed by social feelings research. Specific topic areas highlight the influence and modulation of social feelings on interpersonal affiliation, parent-child attachments, moral sentiments, interpersonal stressors, and emotional communication. Brain regions involved in social feelings were confirmed by meta-analysis using the Neurosynth platform for large-scale, automated synthesis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Words that relate specifically to social feelings were identfied as potential research variables. Topical inquiries into social media behaviors, loneliness, trauma, and social sensitivity, especially with recent physical distancing for guarding public and personal health, underscored the increasing importance of social feelings for affective and second person neuroscience research with implications for brain development, physical and mental health, and lifelong adaptive functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)592-620
Number of pages29
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Emotional communication
  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal stressors
  • Loneliness
  • Moral sentiments
  • Parent-child attachment
  • Second person neuroscience
  • Social affiliation
  • Social feelings
  • Social influence
  • Social media
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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