Let us do a thought experiment! Please recall the names of people whom you have come across in real life and social media during the past two months. Then try to define how you are associated with each individual and recollect one interaction with him or her. Third and last step, now think how those persons are connected to each other and where you position yourself in this large network. Too complex! Isn’t it? Interestingly your brain collects, interpret, categorize, store relevant social information and retrieve it whenever it is required, so effortlessly.
Social cognition “attempts to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others”. Like social life ability for social cognition is not restricted to Homo sapience; many species of animals are also living in societies and exhibits the ability to recognize a particular conspecific or heterospecific individual and modulate behaviours in accordance with the experience from that individual, a trait which is the corner stone of a string of social traits including hierarchy, altruism, trust, empathy as well a determinant of the social decision-making. Our research team explores various dimensions of social cognition and factors influencing social decision-making in fish, an organism located at the base of the tetrapod evolution. Role of acquired familiarity with con and heterospecifics species, in various contexts of social decision making by isolated individuals or groups (shoal) is one of our major focus.
Additionally the biological basis of animal personality (also referred to as individual variation in the behaviour, coping style or behavioral syndrome) and its impact on the lateralized utilization of brain hemisphere and social decision-making in fish are also being explored. Contemporary biology strongly believes that understanding neural and socio-ecological correlates of social decision making and the biological basis of consistent individual variation present in different animal species are vital not only for getting insights into the evolution of social cognition but also for the management and conservation of their populations 8 in natural and artificial habitats. Hence, we are planning to extend the study of this behavioral trait to other animal taxa in the near future. Social decision-making in humans has been an evergreen topic for researchers from science, social science and philosophy. However understanding the exact mechanism and predicting the nature of decision making by an individual or a group is not a trivial task since any human society is not a group of individuals homogenous in their behaviour. One of the major topics in this area of research is the role of culture and personality on the decision-making and such studies are highly important in the Indian context because our nation is a pinnacle of social, cultural and environmental diversity. Availability of a database of cultural variation in decision-making can make social management easy and conflict free.