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Can Translational Social Neuroscience Research Offer Insights to Mitigate Structural Racism in the United States?

      Abstract

      Social isolation and conflict due to structural racism may result in human suffering and loneliness across the life span. Given the rising prevalence of these problems in the United States, combined with disruptions experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the neurobiology of affiliative behaviors may offer practical solutions to the pressing challenges associated with structural racism. Controlled experiments across species demonstrate that social connections are critical to survival, although strengthening individual resilience is insufficient to address the magnitude and impact of structural racism. In contrast, the multilevel construct of social resilience, defined by the power of groups to cultivate, engage in, and sustain positive relationships that endure and recuperate from social adversities, offers unique insights that may have greater impact, reach, and durability than individual-level interventions. Here, we review putative social resilience-enhancing interventions and, when available, their biological mediators, with the hope to stimulate discovery of novel approaches to mitigate structural racism. We first explore the social neuroscience principles underlying psychotherapy and other psychiatric interventions. Then, we explore translational efforts across species to tailor treatments that increase social resilience, with context and cultural sensitivity in mind. Finally, we conclude with some practical future directions for understudied areas that may be essential for progress in biological psychiatry, including ethical ways to increase representation in research and developing social paradigms that inform dynamics toward or away from socially resilient outcomes.

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