Viewing ambiguous social interactions increases functional connectivity between frontal and temporal nodes of the social brain.
Ainsworth M., Sallet J., Joly O., Kyriazis D., Kriegeskorte N., Duncan J., Schüffelgen U., Rushworth MF., Bell AH.
Social behaviour is coordinated by a network of brain regions, including those involved in the perception of social stimuli and those involved in complex functions like inferring perceptual and mental states and controlling social interactions. The properties and function of many of these regions in isolation is relatively well-understood, but less is known about how these regions interact whilst processing dynamic social interactions. To investigate whether the functional connectivity between brain regions is modulated by social context, we collected functional MRI (fMRI) data from male monkeys (Macaca mulatta) viewing videos of social interactions labelled as "affiliative", "aggressive", or "ambiguous". We show activation related to the perception of social interactions along both banks of the superior temporal sulcus, parietal cortex, medial and lateral frontal cortex, and the caudate nucleus. Within this network, we show that fronto-temporal functional connectivity is significantly modulated by social context. Crucially, we link the observation of specific behaviours to changes in functional connectivity within our network. Viewing aggressive behaviour was associated with a limited increase in temporo-temporal and a weak increase in cingulate-temporal connectivity. By contrast, viewing interactions where the outcome was uncertain was associated with a pronounced increase in temporo-temporal, and cingulate-temporal functional connectivity. We hypothesise that this widespread network synchronisation occurs when cingulate and temporal areas coordinate their activity when more difficult social inferences are being made.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT:Processing social information from our environment requires the activation of several brain regions, which are concentrated within the frontal and temporal lobes. However, little is known about how these areas interact to facilitate the processing of different social interactions. Here we show that functional connectivity within and between the frontal and temporal lobes is modulated by social context. Specifically, we demonstrate that viewing social interactions where the outcome was unclear is associated with increased synchrony within and between the cingulate cortex and temporal cortices. These findings suggest that the coordination between the cingulate and temporal cortices is enhanced when more difficult social inferences are being made.