Social emotions and communication
Many brain regions that have classically been associated with the evaluation of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, like the orbitofrotal cortex, insula and amygdala, also play a role in social information processing. In our laboratory, we study live social interactions between monkeys, using simple decision-making tasks in which subjects must take into account their own as well as their partner’s welfare. We also measure proxies of social communication (eye gaze patterns) and emotions (eye blinking), while recording neuronal activity in different brain regions.
Our results show that populations of neurons respond selectively to observed stimuli (such as juice rewards or unpleasant air puffs) that are delivered to a partner but not to self, other neurons exhibit the opposite selectivity, still other neurons encode stimuli delivered to both self and others. These results contribute to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying social emotions like empathy and provide evidence for both shared and separate substrates for representing information about self and others.