Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has awarded a major four-year grant to Professor Mark Buckley and Dr Fabian Grabenhorst to conduct pioneering new studies of the systems neuroscience that underlies social cognition.

Our brains are tuned for social information. From the moment of birth, our social partners capture our interest. Observing others not only helps us optimise our own decisions ('social learning'), but also helps us understand our partners' minds and predict their intentions and behaviour ('mentalising'). These social-cognitive abilities are profoundly impaired in autism, social anxiety, schizophrenia and related human conditions, due to dysfunction of specific brain circuits. Yet, we know very little about how neurons in these brain circuits process information to enable social cognition and social interactions.

With this project, we hope to determine how neurons in a number of different specific frontal and temporal lobe areas process different types of social cognition, and which of these brain areas are essential for successful social behaviours. We hope to understand how these brain areas causally influence each other in dynamic ways during behaviour.

Fabian said: "Previously, we found activity patterns in amygdala neurons that seemed to simulate the decision processes of social partners. In this new project, we are excited to test whether these 'simulation neurons' are also sensitive to the partner's unique reward preferences and knowledge, even when these differ from one's own."

Mark added: ”My lab has maintained a long-standing interest in understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of optimal rule-guided and memory-guided behaviour. Optimising the value of social interaction often requires one to instigate appropriate abstract behavioural rules given the context, and indeed to remember that rule. However, one also needs to know when to dynamically adapt one’s rule- or memory-guided behaviours depending on the changed context. Hence it is exciting to extend these state-of-the-art systems neuroscience studies into the social realm through this new collaboration between my lab and that of Fabian Grabenhorst.

This MRC award recognises how important it is to both understand how the brain operates to mediate normal social cognition, but also to advance understanding of what goes wrong in dysfunctional or compromised brains. Increased scientific knowledge of both will likely have marked impact on society given the prevalence of disorders that impair social-cognitive abilities.”

Similar stories

New book expands the horizons of brain research

A pioneering book from Professor Zoltán Molnár and Yale Professors Tamas Horvath and Joy Hirsch to be released on 1 February 2022 addresses the fundamental relationship between the body, brain and behaviour.

How Mindfulness May Improve Body Satisfaction and Mood

New research from Emma Osborne, Research Assistant at the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders (CREDO) at the University of Oxford (and PhD Candidate at the University of Bath), and Dr Melissa Atkinson, University of Bath, investigated two ways in which mindfulness might improve body satisfaction and mood.

Review Highlights Risk Factors Associated with Violence in Schizophrenia

Researchers at Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry have found that people with schizophrenia and related disorders are at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating violence, but that the overall risk remains low (less than 1 in 20 in women, and less than 1 in 4 for men over a 35-year period for violent arrests and crimes).

Kia Nobre steps down as Head of Department

Matthew Rushworth replaces Kia Nobre as interim Head of the Department of Experimental Psychology

Christoph Treiber awarded ERC Starting Grant to investigate the origins of behavioural diversity

Congratulations are in order for postdoctoral research scientist Dr Christoph Treiber who has been awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council. His funded project will investigate the genetic components that may contribute to diversity of brain function and behaviour.