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Social behaviour

Research theme

Social behaviour

We use neuroimaging to ask:

How we:

  • Interpret and respond to another person’s social signals (e.g. reciprocity)
  • Evaluate, trustworthiness, threat, risk, reward and preference for fairness
  • Model each other’s mental states (theory of mind)
  • Regulate our responses during interactions with others.
  • Are influenced by experience and the environment
  • Understand and prevent disorders in social behaviour (psychopathology)

Our goal is to provide:

Computational models of behaviour and neural signals that quantify the mechanisms of social exchange and co-operation beyond that captured by standard psychological descriptions.



Our models can be used to understand how the brain engineers our social behaviour and how different human brains will inform one another.

The methods being produced can also be used to probe and understand a range of different psychopathologies that affect social behaviour, including patients with:

  • Autism
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia

Recent findings

  • Neuroimaging signals can distinguish between the mental states of oneself and another. The neural self-other distinction is enhanced in social contexts and reduced in people who have a reduced behavioural capacity to distinguish self and others. It may therefore have the potential to serve as a neurocomputational biomarker for psychopathological traits (Ereira et al., 2018)
  • Social training can rewire learning signals in the brain, changing the boundaries between Self and Other. Self and Other can either become more distinct, or more merged. The microstructure of the vmPFC is associated with the degree to which people show this experience-dependent Self-Other plasticity”.  Ereira et al.  Under review.
    Changes in self-esteem co-vary with activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and connectivity between the insula and vmPFC co-varies with psychiatric measures of vulnerability. This connectivity measure may therefore offer a potential psychiatric marker for vulnerability (Will et al., 2017)
  • Children with autism spectrum disorder can be distinguished from their typically developing peers based on a diminished fMRI response in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex that reflects a lack of encoding of value in social exchange (Kashida et al., 2019)
  • Brain imaging data can distinguish between the mental state of recklessness versus the mental state of knowledge, offering the possibility of inferring which legally relevant category a person belongs (Vilares et al., 2017)
  • The substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area complex plays a support role in simple reward-based and social decision making (Hétu et al., 2017)
  • We asked how being around other people affects our sense of responsibility for our actions. We found that working together with others decreased our feelings of responsibility for taking risky actions. This decreased feeling of agency was linked to greater activity in a network of brain regions previously known to be involved in “mentalising” – thinking about the thoughts of other people. (Beyer et al., 2018)

Teams in this research area