The Prefrontal Cortex and Goal-Directed Social Behavior

Aron Keith Barbey, Jordan Grafman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter develops an integrative cognitive neuroscience framework for understanding the social functions of the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), reviewing recent theoretical insights from evolutionary psychology and emerging neuroscience evidence to support the importance of this region for orchestrating social behavior on the basis of evolutionarily adaptive social norms. The chapter begins by reviewing the evolutionary foundations of normative social behavior, surveying contemporary research and theory from evolutionary psychology to suggest that widely shared norms of social exchange are the product of evolutionarily adaptive cognitive mechanisms. It then reviews the biology, evolution, and ontogeny of the human PFC, and introduces a cognitive neuroscience framework for goal-directed social behavior on the basis of evolutionarily adaptive social norms represented by the lateral PFC. It examines a broad range of evidence from the social and decision neuroscience literatures demonstrating that evolutionarily adaptive social norms of obligatory, prohibited, and permissible behavior are mediated by the lateral PFC.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience
EditorsJean Decety, John T Cacioppo
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780195342161
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • prefrontal cortex
  • evolution
  • goal-directed social behavior
  • cognitive neuroscience framework
  • social functions


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