Integrating levels of understanding
Doctor Thomas Insel discusses the importance of understanding behavior on multiple levels and the interactions of genes, cells, and social systems.
So the way I would think about understanding something as complex as social cognition or social behavior - the operative word here is â€˜understanding.â€™ Understanding for us nowadays in science means a comprehension of this across many levels of analysis. So 20 years ago it would have been fine to understand language or social motivation or parental care at the level of behavior, and there is still a very deep amount of research that is necessary to characterize the behavior. But increasingly in this decade â€˜understandingâ€™ means now getting at it at other levels. Other levels can kind of cascade down. So you go from the level of observed behavior to the level of observing whatâ€™s happening within brain networks and systems to then understanding what is happening at a cellular basis and how those systems within the brain, how those networks form. At a molecular level, what is changing within cells to drive a certain kind of development, to buy us a certain kind of behavior, to permit something like language to actually take place? Thatâ€™s where often the kinds of tools that are used now from genetics are having the most information. So we are talking about genes are molecular level, cellular level, systems level, ultimately the behavioral level which then divides up between individual behavior and then finally social behavior and what happens within social networks.
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