Humans are an intrinsically social species. Our advanced socio-emotional skills are thought to underpin our tremendous cultural advances as well as the evolution of language. Our superior social skills are underpinned by an increased proficiency in the identification of, and access to knowledge about other people. Social knowledge is supported by increased specialization in a number of cortical regions involved in face processing as well as higher-level regions involved in linking biographical knowledge as well as motivational value to specific faces. In this renewal of our prior R01, we propose to extend our work on the anterior temporal lobes (ATLs) to examine a more specialized circuit for person knowledge. This circuit involves a region in the ventral ATL (vATL) that when damaged, leads to person memory deficits. The vATL face patch appears to serve as an interface between face perception and person memory, linking perceptual representations of distinct identities with abstract person knowledge. However this region does not act alone. We will use multivariate fMRI as well as structural and functional connectivity analyses to examine the flexible interaction of this region with perceptual systems, episodic memory systems, and hedonic valuation systems. Success in this project will significantly advance our understanding of the basic neural mechanisms that contribute to high-level social processing and will have important clinical implications for disorders that have core social knowledge deficits such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.

Public Health Relevance

Problems with comprehending social cues and using social knowledge in a context-appropriate manner lie at the heart of several psychiatric disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Indeed, poor social functioning has been found to be a good predictor of relapse and re-hospitalization in schizophrenia. This project will provide critical information about the neural basis of social knowledge as well as providing information about how individual variation in social processing is reflected in the variability in structural connectivity of limbic white matter tracts.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Simmons, Janine M
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Temple University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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