Social cues, such as eye gaze, facial and bodily emotion, gender, appearance, have largely been studied independent of one another, often isolated within separate fields. Emotional expression, for example, has been most extensively studied within a social psychological framework, and facial identity largely within a visual cognition framework. Importantly, neither discipline adequately addresses the combined influences of various cues on social perception. This research takes an interdisciplinary, multi-method approach to this question. A conceptual merger is required now, one that focuses specifically on the intersection of social cues in perceptual processing. Because of shared social meanings across cues, we predict that compound social cues will lead to interactions in brain systems known to be important for social and emotion processing, such as the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and superior temporal sulcus. We also predict that under conditions of restricted awareness, responses will be preferentially attuned to congruent (i.e., clear) cues, whereas for conscious processing they will be preferentially attuned to incongruent (i.e., ambiguous) threat cues. Research examining the neurobiological underpinnings of affective perception is in its formative stages. In the current application, we contend that social and emotional messages inherently share meaning. If substantiated, the complexities of our nonverbal social language will be more tractable and clearly delineated, and the interplay of reflexive- versus conscious-level processing will be further elucidated. Notably, the brain regions of interest that will be examined have been implicated in the types of socio-emotional impairments that characterize such psychopathological disorders as autism, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and Turner's syndrome, as well as various forms of related brain lesions (e.g., temporal lobectomy). We specifically aim to make significant strides toward future work applying compound social cue theory to patient populations with anxiety disorders and deficits in socio-emotional perception related to the particular brain systems of interest.

Public Health Relevance

Our examination of compounds threat cues will examine brain systems known to be implicated in impairments of social and emotional processing. Such impairments are found in psychopathological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, prosopagnosia, borderline personality disorder, Turner's syndrome, and anxiety disorders, as well as various forms of related brain lesions (e.g., temporal lobectomy, front temporal damage). This work therefore will contribute to a better understanding of such impairments and will set the stage for future work directly examining compound threat cues in patient populations.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Simmons, Janine M
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Massachusetts General Hospital
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