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Viewing ambiguous social interactions increases functional connectivity between frontal and temporal nodes of the social brain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Matthew Ainsworth, Jérôme Sallet, Olivier Joly, Diana Kyriazis, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, John Duncan, Urs Schüffelgen, Matthew Fs Rushworth, Andrew H Bell

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6070-6086
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number28
Early online date14 Jul 2021
Accepted/In press28 Apr 2021
E-pub ahead of print14 Jul 2021
Published14 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by Medical Research Council Intramural Program SUAG/051 G101400 and Research Grants MC-A060-5PR20, WT101092MA, and MR/P024955/1; Wellcome Trust Project Grant 203139/Z/ 16/Z; and Henry Dale Fellowship 105651/Z/14/Z. We thank the veterinary staff and animal technicians of the Biological Sciences Building for the high standards of animal care and husbandry. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence should be addressed to Matthew Ainsworth at Copyright © 2021 Ainsworth et al. Publisher Copyright: Copyright © 2021 Ainsworth et al. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Social behavior is coordinated by a network of brain regions, including those involved in the perception of social stimuli and those involved in complex functions, such as inferring perceptual and mental states and controlling social interactions. The properties and function of many of these regions in isolation are relatively well understood, but less is known about how these regions interact while processing dynamic social interactions. To investigate whether the functional connectivity between brain regions is modulated by social context, we collected fMRI data from male monkeys (Macaca mulatta) viewing videos of social interactions labeled 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 behaviors to changes in functional connectivity within our network. Viewing aggressive behavior 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 hypothesize that this widespread network synchronization occurs when cingulate and temporal areas coordinate their activity when more difficult social inferences are being made.

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