summary: A specific set of socially tuned neurons fire across multiple regions across the prefrontal cortex and amygdala at different times during eye-to-eye contact. Brain regions are recruited to account for selective aspects of social gaze interactions, suggesting the importance of a more reflective role during social gaze interactions.
Their eyes met across a crowded dance floor, causing specialized neurons to start firing in multiple regions of both brains tasked with deriving meaning from social gaze.
Although not as romantic as a first dance floor encounter, a new study at Yale University has been able to map this surprisingly widespread neural response in multiple brain regions when two people’s eyes meet and social gaze interaction occurs, researchers report May 10 in the journal . neuron.
“There are strong strong cues in the brain that are cues on a reactive social outlook,” said Steve Chang of Yale University, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, member of the Wu Tsai and Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, and senior author. the study.
The phenomenon of extracting meaning in gaze between two people has been documented in art and literature for thousands of years, but scholars have had difficulty revealing how the brain achieved such a feat.
They have extensively studied the neurobiology of social cognition, usually by doing brain scans of individuals as they are presented with specific static images, such as angry or happy faces or direct or avoidant looks.
However, it is difficult to deal with the interactions of two individual minds because they both dynamically and mutually extract information from each other’s eyes.
Zhang’s lab overcame this hurdle by monitoring the monkeys’ brain activity while tracking the eye positions of two animals at the same time. This enabled them to record a wide range of neurons while the animals spontaneously stared at each other.
“They were spontaneously participating in social interactions while we examined neuronal firing,” Zhang said. “Importantly, we didn’t impose any tasks, so it was up to them to decide how and when they would react.”
They found that specific groups of socially tuned neurons fired across multiple brain regions at different times during eye contact. For example, one set of neurons fired when one individual initiated eye contact, but not when that individual followed the other’s gaze.
Another set of neurons was active when the monkeys were deciding whether to complete the reciprocal eye contact initiated by the other. Interestingly, when fixing a look on another individual, some neurons determined the distance relative to another individual’s eyes, but upon taking a look, another set of neurons indicated how close the other individual was.
The areas of the brain in which the neural activation occurred provided hints about how the brain assesses the meaning of a gaze. Surprisingly, the part of the network activated during social gaze interaction included the prefrontal cortex, the seat of high-level learning and decision-making, as well as the amygdala, the center of emotion and evaluation.
“Multiple regions within the prefrontal cortex, in addition to the amygdala, are recruited to account for selective aspects of interactive social gaze, suggesting the importance of a more reflective role during social gaze interaction,” Zhang said.
These areas in the frontal lobe and amygdala networks that are activated during processing social gaze interaction are also known to be disrupted in cases of atypical social conditions, such as autism. This, he said, testifies to their importance in achieving feelings of social connectedness.
He added that social gaze interaction likely plays a critical role in shaping social bonding, and the networks of the frontal lobe and amygdala may lead to this.
“The fact that social gaze interaction neurons are found widely in the brain also speaks to the moral importance of social gaze interaction,” Zhang said.
Siqi Fan of Yale and Olga Dal Monte are the study’s lead authors.
About this research in Visual Neuroscience News
author: Bill Hathaway
Contact: Bill Hathaway – Yale
picture: The image is in the public domain
original search: open access.
“Large-scale applications of social gaze interactive neurons in primate prefrontal and amygdala networks” by Olga Dal Monte et al. neuron
Extensive applications of social gaze interactive neurons in prefrontal and amygdala networks of primates
- Prefrontal and amygdala neurons show temporal heterogeneity of social gaze events
- These neurons are involved in monitoring the perception of oneself or others
- These neurons encode cross-eye communication in a proxy-specific manner
- Social gaze interaction is extensively accounted for in the prefrontal and amygdala networks
The interaction of social outlook strongly shapes interpersonal communication. However, in comparison with social cognition, very little is known about the neural underpinnings of social gaze interaction in real life.
Here, we studied a large number of neurons spanning four regions in primate prefrontal networks and the amygdala and demonstrated strong single-cell underpinnings of interactive social outlook in the anterior, dorsolateral and anterior cingulate cortex, as well as the amygdala.
Many neurons in these regions showed high temporal heterogeneity for social discrimination, with a selective bias for looking at something specific compared to an object.
Notably, a large proportion of neurons in each brain region parametrically tracked the gaze of self or others, providing substrates for monitoring social gaze. Moreover, many neurons exhibited selective encoding of eye-to-eye contact in a factor-specific manner.
These results provide evidence for the widespread applications of social gaze interaction neurons in primate prefrontal and amygdala networks during social gaze interaction.