When eyes meet, neurons begin to fire – Neuroscience News


Summary: A specific set of socially tuned neurons fire in multiple regions of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala at different times during mutual eye contact. Brain regions are recruited to compute selective aspects of interactive social gaze, suggesting the importance of a more contemplative role during social gaze interactions.

Source: Yale

Their eyes met on a crowded dance floor, causing specialized neurons to fire in multiple regions of both brains tasked with deriving meaning from social gaze.

Although not as romantic as the first encounter on the dance floor, a new study from Yale has been able to trace this surprisingly widespread neural response across multiple areas of the brain when two individuals’ eyes meet and a social gaze interaction occurs. product, the researchers report May 10 in the journal. Neuron.

“There are powerful and robust signals in the brain that are signatures of interactive social gaze,” said Steve Chang of Yale, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, member of the Wu-Tsai Institute and the ‘Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, and lead author. of the study.

The phenomenon of meaning extraction in the gaze between two people has been documented in art and literature for millennia, but scientists have struggled to uncover how the brain accomplishes such a subtle feat.

They have extensively studied the neurobiology of social perception, typically by giving individuals brain scans when presented with specific static images, such as angry or happy faces or direct or averted gazes.

However, the interactions of two individual minds that dynamically and reciprocally extract information from each other’s eyes are difficult to address.

Chang’s lab overcame this hurdle by monitoring the monkeys’ brain activity while simultaneously tracking the eye position of two animals. This allowed them to record a wide range of neurons as the animals looked at each other spontaneously.

“They spontaneously engaged in social interactions while we looked at neural triggering,” Chang said. “And most importantly, we didn’t impose any tasks, so it was up to them how and when they would interact.”

They found that specific sets of social listening neurons fired in multiple brain regions at different times during mutual eye contact. For example, a set of neurons fired when an individual initiated mutual 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 mutual eye contact initiated by the other. And curiously, when fixing a gaze on another individual, some neurons marked the distance to the eyes of another, but when receiving a gaze, another set of neurons signaled at which the other individual was close.

The brain regions in which neural activation took place provided clues to how the brain assesses gaze meaning. Surprisingly, part of the network activated during social gaze interaction included the prefrontal cortex, the seat of higher-order learning and decision-making, as well as the amygdala, the center of emotion and of valuation.

The phenomenon of meaning extraction in the gaze between two people has been documented in art and literature for millennia, but scientists have struggled to uncover how the brain accomplishes such a subtle feat. Image is in public domain

“Several regions of the prefrontal cortex, in addition to the amygdala, are recruited to compute selective aspects of interactive social gaze, suggesting the importance of a more contemplative role during social gaze interaction,” Chang said.

These areas of the prefrontal-amygdala networks activated during social gaze interaction processing are also known to be disrupted in cases of atypical social conditions, such as autism. This attests to their importance in achieving feelings of social connection, he said.

Social gaze interaction likely plays a critical role in shaping social connectedness, he added, and prefrontal-amygdala networks could make this possible.

“The fact that interactive social gaze neurons are widely found in the brain also speaks to the ethological importance of social gaze interaction,” Chang said.

Siqi Fan and Olga Dal Monte of Yale are co-lead authors of the study.

About this visual neuroscience research news

Author: bill hathaway
Source: Yale
Contact: Bill Hathaway – Yale
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Generalized Implementations of Interactive Social Gaze Neurons in Primate Prefrontal-Amygdala Networks” by Olga Dal Monte et al. Neuron


Abstract

See also

This is a cartoon of a girl watching another girl playing with blocks

Generalized implementations of interactive social gaze neurons in primate prefrontal-amygdala networks

Strong points

  • Prefrontal and amygdala neurons show temporal heterogeneity for social gaze events
  • These neurons are involved in monitoring the gaze of oneself or others
  • These neurons encode mutual eye contact in an agent-specific way
  • Social gaze interaction is largely computed in prefrontal-amygdala networks

Summary

The interaction of social gaze powerfully shapes interpersonal communication. However, compared to social perception, 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-amygdala networks and demonstrated robust single-cell bases of interactive social gaze in the orbitofrontal, dorsomedial prefrontal, and anterior cingulate cortices, in addition to the amygdala.

Many neurons in these areas exhibited high temporal heterogeneity for social discriminability, with a selectivity bias for looking at a conspecific versus an object.

Notably, a large proportion of neurons in each brain region parametrically tracked gaze of self or others, providing substrates for social gaze monitoring. Moreover, several neurons displayed selective coding of mutual eye contact in an agent-specific manner.

These results provide evidence for widespread implementations of interactive social gaze neurons in primate prefrontal-amygdala networks during social gaze interaction.


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