ESI TALKS: Raymundo Báez-Mendoza

At this bi-weekly event, we invite speakers from Neuroscience and related fields to share their current research in an informal and casual environment. The ESITALKS last around 45 minutes, followed by discussions.

We are very happy to invite you to this ESITALKS about

Exploring Social Cognition: Prefrontal Mechanisms for Group Behavior and Theory of Mind

As a social species, our behavior affects both individual and collective fitness, for example by reciprocating an action. Furthermore, our ability to predict and make sense of the actions of others (Theory of Mind) plays a fundamental role in our social interactions. Despite the importance of group behavior and Theory of Mind to individual fitness, the neuronal mechanisms underlying these cognitive processes remain elusive. To start addressing this gap, we designed a series of tasks in different species to explore some of the processes underlying social interactions while simultaneously recording single neuronal activity from the prefrontal cortex. In macaques, we devised a group task in which each of three monkeys seated around a turntable chose one of the other monkeys to receive a food reward. We discovered that monkeys tend to reciprocate, suggesting that they keep track of prior choices and rewards of others. In humans, we studied neuronal activity in the PFC during the canonical false belief task, in which we asked subjects to reason about the perspectives of others. We found a rich representation of social dynamics in the PFC across both species. In monkeys, distinct subpopulations of dmPFC neurons reflected both the actor’s and reward recipient’s identity in the current and previous trial. Moreover, decoding neuronal activity can predict the animal’s upcoming decisions, and manipulating neuronal activity using electrical stimulation can alter them. Finally, we identified single neurons in the human dmPFC that encode information about others’ beliefs, distinguish between self and other-beliefs, and predict whether these beliefs are true or false – collectively representing the first description of individual neurons encoding human theory of mind. These studies highlight the role of the PFC in a wide array of social behaviors. Our unique multispecies approach harnesses the distinct advantages of each animal model to interrogate aspects of prefrontal mechanisms of social cognition. These investigations lay the groundwork for enhancing our understanding of the neuronal mechanisms of social behaviors.

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