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A brain region for social cognition
Monkeys recognize social interactions and their meanings quickly and effortlessly. Little is known about the neural circuitry that underlies this understanding. Sliwa and Freiwald scanned monkey brains as the monkeys watched static or moving stimuli. A subset of brain areas was exclusively active during monkey-monkey interactions, as opposed to physical interactions between two objects. This network shares some of its components with the monkey mirror neuron system mapped previously by others and with a possible homolog of the human network involved in the theory of mind.
Science, this issue p. 745
Primate cognition requires interaction processing. Interactions can reveal otherwise hidden properties of intentional agents, such as thoughts and feelings, and of inanimate objects, such as mass and material. Where and how interaction analyses are implemented in the brain is unknown. Using whole-brain functional magnetic resonance imaging in macaque monkeys, we discovered a network centered in the medial and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex that is exclusively engaged in social interaction analysis. Exclusivity of specialization was found for no other function anywhere in the brain. Two additional networks, a parieto-premotor and a temporal one, exhibited both social and physical interaction preference, which, in the temporal lobe, mapped onto a fine-grain pattern of object, body, and face selectivity. Extent and location of a dedicated system for social interaction analysis suggest that this function is an evolutionary forerunner of human mind-reading capabilities.