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Neuroscientific Insights

Ray (2018) noted that there has been an emphasis on discovering and using more “objective markers” (p. 54) in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. Using neuroscience research has been one approach. In light of
 he rise of an array of levels of analysis now available to neuroscientists such as brain imaging genetics, brain networks and so forth, researchers from a variety of disciplines have been enthusiastic about describing cognitive, emotional and motor processes that include areas such as the hippocampus, brain networks related to memory as well as structural changes among neurons. Armed with this knowledge, it is feasible for researchers to study psychopathological conditions that involve the memory system such as delusions and amnesia. Another example of this is the reward system. Ray (2018) noted that several studies have shown that specific brain structures particularly the nucleus accumbens a part of the ventral striatum are indeed influenced by a rise in dopamine during reward. The researcher explained all addictive drugs produce dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Further, the activation of the nucleus accumbens is also correlated to the degree of cravings. Murray, Eisner, and Ribaud (2017)
noted that the most studied anatomical structure related to reward processing is the ventral striatum which includes the nucleus accumbens and involves, “valuation, anticipation, and consumption of rewards” (p. 2)

Ray (2018) noted that as neuroscience has progressed with the use of brain imaging and genetics as levels of analysis, new levels of analysis have emerged providing a variety of perspectives that have influenced the field of mental health. What were once perceived as discrete categories of psychopathology are now viewed differently when genetics is taken into consideration. Researchers have also taken neural networks into consideration in light of specific manifestations of psychopathology. As such, mental disorders can be described in a categorical and dimensional manner. For example, in the physical sciences a phenomenon can be described categorically and dimensionally. Water is heated and then rises in temperature and the dimensional manner can be described in terms of the number of degrees the water is heated. As the water turns into steam, it becomes categorically different. With regard to psychopathology , it is critical to ascertain the “underlying dimensional changes” ( p. 53), that are related to categorical changes that lead to a disordered state.

Conrad, Conrad, Mazza, Riley, Funk, Stein, and Dennis (2012) explained that even though categorical models such as the DSM-V have pursued a traditional approach and placed individuals within specific diagnoses there is increased evidence that externalizing disorders are a product of “underlying psychopathological processes rather than discrete disorders” (p. 915).

What processes and brain structures are involved in the processing of social information, and what do these processes tell us about the role of social skills in our lives?

Ray (2018) pointed out that with regard to brain structure, several of the structures related to the processing of emotions are also critical for social behavior. Brain structures that involve social interactions are associated with three distinct processes. The researcher noted, for example the first process is involved with neo-cortical regions pertaining to the processing of sensory information. This is how humans know they experience via vision, hearing, touch and so forth. The researcher noted that the affective system is instrumental in predicting social behavior involving the amygdala, striatum, and orbitofrontal cortex. The function of the amygdala involves processing events of emotional impact. For example, stimulating positive emotions if we someone smiling or in contrast, activating negative emotions upon encountering someone who appears angry or fearful. Another process is associated with the higher cortical regions of the neocortex which involve cognition and regulation. The researcher explained these regions of the brain are instrumental in the construction of an interior model of the social world. For example, associated with this model might be the development of a social understanding of other people and their relationship with individuals including ourselves, as well understanding the meaning of our individual actions on a social group. These particular areas of the brain are also related to the “theory of mind basis for social interactions” (p. 192). Theory of mind relates to the human ability to understand one’s or another’s mental state. Further, the pre-frontal cortex is also instrumental in other aspects of social relationships such as moral behavior, social aggression, and cooperation. Additionally, the pre-frontal cortex can experience activation during humor and embarrassment which is also referred to as a moral emotion by the
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