Threatening Social Encounters Encoded and Retrieved by Same Neural Pathway in Monkeys, Study Suggests

Observing one person threatening another is not an extremely unusual event. Now, in research published online on September 29, 2015 in an open-access article in eLife, scientists have used large-scale neural recording and big data analysis in monkeys to enable a first glimpse of the brain remembering and recalling the memory of such negative social interactions. The article is titled “Cortical Network Architecture for Context Processing in Primate Brain.” The research reveals the complex structure of a neural network for the observation of a negative social interaction and its retrieval from memory. The research, conducted by Dr. Naotaka Fujii and colleagues at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, answers the long-standing question of whether the memory of an observed social encounter can be formed and recalled via the same neural pathway. To test this idea, the authors overlaid a 128-channel large-scale recording array on a monkey cortex to record electrical activity while the subject watched videos of one monkey threatening another. In control studies, the videos showed non-threatening interactions. The researchers recorded the brain activity data to a server and used “big data” analytical techniques to calculate a multi-dimensional value called ERC (Event Related Causality) that indexed the continuous evolution of brain activity in time, space, and the direction of communication between brain areas during the task. The ERC in turn was decomposed to identify hotspots of network activity the team called “modules” that pinpointed specific epochs in the observed social threat interactions. The modules revealed a rich dynamic flow of information in the brain network at unprecedented resolution.
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