The Troika of Sociology, Political Science and Economics
Edited by Gert Tingaard Svendsen and Gunnar Lind Haase Svendsen
Chapter 5: Social Capital in the Brain?
Michael Bang Petersen, Andreas Roepstorﬀ and Søren Serritzlew Introduction The social capital concept has demonstrated its relevance. To name a few examples, it is crucial for understanding determinants of economic growth (Knack and Keefer, 1997), how democracy works (Putnam, 1993a), and more fundamentally, cooperation in collective action problems. But social capital is also a contested concept. There is no clear consensus on how to deﬁne it, some say that it is ambiguous, and some even that it should be abandoned (Arrow, 2000: 4). One of the hotly debated topics relates to the psychological basis of cooperation. Is cooperation grounded in rational calculations, directed by strong social norms or soaked in aﬀective and emotional motivations? Such core questions directly pertain to how social capital is translated into cooperative behavior by individual minds. The alternatives presented in the debate draw on signiﬁcantly diﬀerent models of the human actor, and as long as answers to these questions remain unclear, so will other core concepts such as cooperation and social capital. This chapter reviews recent studies from the growing discipline of cognitive neuroscience. By oﬀering the social sciences radically new kinds of data on psychological processes, these studies have the potential to shed new light on the psychological basis of cooperation and related questions. The message of this chapter is that the neuroscientiﬁc evidence strongly suggests that cooperative behavior is a real phenomenon motivated by the elicitation of context-sensitive emotional systems that primarily operate in situations of...
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