Face to Face: Towards a neuroscience of social intelligence by Winrich Freiwald

To join this seminar online, please see https://sharepoint.nexus.ox.ac.uk/sites/NDCN/FMRIB/SitePages/WIN%20Wednesday%20Seminar.aspx

How can networks of neurons perform computations that enable intelligence? This is the fundamental question of cognitive neuroscience, and finding answers to this question, is the long-term goal of my laboratory. We seek these answers, primarily, in the domain of social cognition. This is for three reasons. First, the primate mind is easily engaged by its surrounding social world: the individuals that occupy them, their relationships, actions, thoughts, and feelings. Second, the computational challenges of social cognition are formidable – after all, there is no bigger challenge for the mind that to understand other minds. Thus, to navigate their increasingly complex social worlds, primates have evolved sophisticated cognitive abilities to extract, understand, store, and act upon social information. And third, supporting these social cognitive abilities, primate brains have evolved specialized circuits to support them. Such specializations within large primate brains, I will argue, are critical to make a research program into the neural mechanisms and computational principles of intelligence tractable. In my talk, I will present our general approach to localize and dissect the function of social brain circuits. We focus on the visual circuits that analyze faces as a major inroad into the social brain, the circuits controlling facial movements as a major circuit generating socially important output signals, and circuits of social knowledge and cognition in between. I will describe how the face-processing system extracts and transforms information from the face, the insights we have gained into the computational principles governing these operations, the recent discovery of mechanisms for the storage of social information, and our current ideas about the role of these circuits supporting social cognition.