Social neuroscience, empathy, brain integration, and neurodevelopmental disorders

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32 Scopus citations


Paul MacLean has investigated integrated brain functioning through selected brain lesions in animals that disturb circuits necessary for complex behaviors, such as social displays. MacLean is unique in his comparative neurobehavioral approach that emphasizes the evolutionary origins of parenting and social behaviors and the implications of brain changes in the evolution from reptiles (social displays) to mammals (nursing, audiovocal communication, play) to man (self-awareness, intentionality, social context) that link affect and cognition. Subjectively, how "looking with feeling toward others, " the basic element in empathy, evolved has been a central concern of his. Neuroimaging studies of social cognition, mother-infant communication, moral behavior, forgiveness, and trust are consistent with particular brain systems being activated in cooperative social behaviors. The identification of mirror neurons is pertinent to MacLean's model of isopraxis and studies of thalamocortical resonances may be pertinent to his neurobehavioral models. Studies of behavioral phenotypes in human neurodevelopmental disorders are consistent with MacLean's model of brain circuits being linked to complex behaviors during development. In autistic disorder, the behavioral phenotype involves disrupted social communication, deviant imaginative play, and motor stereotypies. In Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (LNS), self-injury occurs in individuals with normal sensory systems intact who require and request physical restraint to prevent self-injury; they ask for assistance from others to prevent them from harming themselves. Autism involves the lack of subjective awareness of others intentions and LNS involves a failure in self-regulation and self-control of self-injurious behavior. MacLean's models laid the groundwork for studies focused on understanding brain functioning in these conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)525-531
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2003


  • Autism
  • Empathy
  • Isopraxis
  • Lesch-Nyhan syndrome
  • MacLean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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