Introducing the Theory of Neurosocial Interdependence

Moving Beyond the Person-In-Environment Perspective in Social Work




neuroscience, person-in-environment, social work, brain, body


Thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are linked fundamentally to the environments one inhabits. The person-in-environment perspective effectively captures these three aspects of the human experience and serves as a central fixture within social work research and practice. Many social workers use this perspective to guide every facet of the work they undertake, from case conceptualization to ethics of human subject research. At the same time, recent advancements in human neuroscience research and neuroimaging technologies have inspired social workers to embrace how the nervous system is integrally interconnected with one’s environments. In turn, human neuroscience has catalyzed more biologically-informed practice and research in the field of social work, centered on elucidating social and psychological developmental domains within systems. The popularity of the person-in-environment perspective and the integration of human neuroscience in the field of social work has created a nexus that heretofore has not been adequately integrated into the literature. The present paper addresses this gap with a novel theory known as neurosocial interdependence, which integrates insights from human neuroscience into the framework of the person-in-environment perspective. This paper also bolsters the development of the theory of neurosocial interdependence by introducing a novel testing instrument and measurement scale, exploring how these tools might be used to implement the theory of neurosocial interdependence within social work research and clinical settings.

Author Biographies

Zachary P. Pierce, Boston College School of Social Work

Zachary P. Pierce, MSW, is a clinical social worker, cognitive neuroscientist, trauma specialist, and research associate with the Cell to Society Lab at Boston College School of Social Work. His research intersects cognitive neuroscience, functional neuroimaging technologies, and clinical therapeutic interventions for adults, adolescents, and children, with the goal of improving the quality of mental health treatment systems through collaborative, multi- disciplinary efforts. Mr. Pierce is interested in modifying therapeutic modalities for treating PTSD, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and thought disorders with insights and resources from cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging technologies to improve client outcomes in both in- and out-patient clinical settings.

Jessica M. Black, Boston College School of Social Work

Jessica M. Black, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor, Director of the Cell to Society Lab, and Chair of the Children, Youth, and Families field of practice in the School of Social Work at Boston College. An educational neuroscientist, Dr. Black obtained her doctorate in Educational Psychology from Stanford University School of Education and then completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in cognitive neuroscience at the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research within the Stanford University School of Medicine. Her research integrates the use of neuroimaging, standard neuropsychological behavioral testing, and environmental measures, such as the home supports, to predict outcome in child and adolescent development. Within this population, Dr. Black focuses primarily on children with diagnosis of or risk for develop- mental dyslexia. Keenly interested in childhood resilience, Dr. Black has extended her neuroimaging research to better un- derstand the neural underpinnings of humor and the extent to which humor and positive emotion generally may contribute to resilience during pivotal transitions in the lives of youth.


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