What is the role of the individual in the collective good? Human history is rife with examples of prosocial change brought about by individual heroism. In this chapter, we explore the importance of the individual in shaping the collective good through the lens of cultural neuroscience. Specifically, we examine how fundamental components of the social brain, including self-knowledge, empathy-altruism, and a sense of fairness and justice, have been shaped by culture-gene coevolutionary forces and how we can understand individual and collective good as by-products of these core capacities. Cultural neuroscience is an emerging research discipline that investigates cultural variation in psychological, neural, and genomic processes as a means of articulating the bidirectional relationship of these processes and their emergent properties. Research in cultural neuroscience is motivated by two intriguing questions of human nature: How do cultural traits (e.g., values, beliefs, practices) shape neurobiology (e.g., genetic and neural processes) and behavior and how do neurobiological mechanisms (e.g., genetic and neural processes) facilitate the emergence and transmission of cultural traits?
The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.
The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.
—William James (1880)