Social interactions are dynamic, context-dependent, and reciprocal events that influence prospective strategies and require constant practice and adaptation. This complexity of social interactions creates several research challenges. We propose a new framework encouraging future research to investigate not only individual differences in capacities relevant for social functioning and their underlying mechanisms, but also the flexibility to adapt or update one’s social abilities. We suggest three key capacities relevant for social functioning: (1) social perception, (2) sharing emotions or empathizing, and (3) mentalizing. We elaborate on how adaptations in these capacities may be investigated on behavioral and neural levels. Research on these flexible adaptations of one’s social behavior is needed to specify how humans actually “learn to be social”. Learning to adapt implies plasticity of the relevant brain networks involved in the underlying social processes, indicating that social abilities are malleable for different contexts. To quantify such measures, researchers need to find ways to investigate learning through dynamic changes in adaptable social paradigms and examine several factors influencing social functioning within the three aformentioned social key capacities. This framework furthers insight concerning individual differences, provides a holistic approach to social functioning, and may improve interventions for ameliorating social abilities in patients.
The (un)learning of social functions and its significance for mental health.