This project investigates the neurobiology of those positive emotions and social states that sustain and empower human achievement and support the ethical basis of human society. Because of advances in our understanding of the neural basis of prosocial behavior in non-human primates as well as the development of new non-invasive neuroimaging techniques it is now possible to test specific hypotheses of the neural mechanisms responsible for the evolution of the prosocial capabilities of the human brain. By comparing the structure and function of the neural mechanisms regulating prosocial behavior in human and non-human primates it will be possible to define the nature and evolutionary development of the unique human characteristics embodied in these prosocial processes. The primary goal of this project is to test the overarching hypothesis that these uniquely human forms of prosocial emotions and behaviors are mediated by neural circuitry found in humans but not other non-human primates. We propose that these human specific modes of cognition are mediated by a unique cortical arrangement that has evolved within the human brain and that oxytocin acts within the uniquely human areas of association cortex to mediate, at least in part, the unique characteristics of human prosocial emotions and behaviors. This project builds on previous JTF support for neuroscience research on prosocial behavior, deepening the understanding of the evolution of human neural systems involved in oxytocin’s regulation of prosocial behavior. It will advance the understanding of positive human emotions by delving into their fundamental mechanisms and evolutionary antecedents as well as establishing the field of positive neuroscience as a new area of neuroscience. The project will also reach out to the public through a collaborative effort with Zoo Atlanta which will bring the outcome of this research to a large population of the lay public visiting the primate exhibit at the zoo.
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