Mobile animals orient to salient features of the environment. In primates, covert orienting of attention has also evolved as a flexible mechanism for monitoring potentially important locations or stimuli in the absence of overt orienting. While prior laboratory studies have extensively probed attention in both human and nonhuman primates trained to discriminate simple stimuli whose behavioral significance has been arbitrarily assigned, observational studies conducted in natural settings suggest that social stimuli are intrinsically salient and attract attention. Moreover, recent laboratory studies indicate that social cues, such as the direction of gaze of other individuals, access a privileged information channel that reflexively guides attention in both human and nonhuman primates. These studies suggest that mechanisms of attention have evolved that are sensitive to cues predicting the goals and intentions of other individuals, but exactly what these cues are and how they guide attention remain obscure, despite the fact that breakdown of these mechanisms is associated with severely debilitating mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. Although neurophysiological studies have revealed that social stimuli such as faces, their identity, emotional state, and direction of gaze, are processed in ventral stream visual areas of temporal cortex, these areas are not known to be important for orienting attention. In contrast, parietal cortex is thought to play a crucial role in both overt and covert allocation of visuo-spatial attention, but neurons in this area are not known to be particularly sensitive to stimulus attributes such as facial identity or the direction of gaze in a face. These observations strongly suggest that visual social signals arising in the temporal lobe are somehow transformed into orienting commands in parietal cortex, but the mechanisms supporting these transformations remain unknown. The objective of our research is to decipher how visual social signals are transformed into attentional orienting, using a combination of ethological, psychophysical, and neurophysiological techniques in monkeys. First, psychophysical techniques will be used to quantify the intrinsic motivational value of social stimuli for both covertly and overtly orienting attention. Second, neurophysiological techniques will be used to study the neural correlates of socially-motivated attention in parietal cortex, a principal structure controlling attention. Finally, the role of orbitofrontal cortex in socially-cued and socially-motivated attention will be determined using the same techniques. Achieving these aims will constrain models of the transformation of visual social signals arising in the ventral visual processing stream into socially appropriate orienting. ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
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Cognitive Neuroscience Study Section (COG)
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Quinn, Kevin J
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Duke University
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United States
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