Funded Grants

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Grantee: University of California - Los Angeles, USA

Researcher: Matthew Lieberman

Grant Title: The Role of the Basal Ganglia in Automatic Social Inference

Program Area: McDonnell-Pew Program in Cognitive Neuroscience

Grant Type: Research Award

Year Awarded: 1999

The Role of the Basal Ganglia in Automatic Social Inference

Considerable research suggests that intuitive and heuristic strategies of information processing systematically degrade the accuracy of judgment and decision making (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). There are, however, domains for which intuition is integral to the extraction and use of subtle regularities in the social environment. Specifically, a number of social psychological processes indicate the centrality of intuitive processes in fine tuned performance.

The project described in this research proposal develops a social cognitive neuroscience approach to understanding the role of the basal ganglia in automatic social inference processes. There is suggestive evidence that the basal ganglia may be well positioned to perform the sort of temporal pattern completion demanded by automatic social inference processes. The evidence, however, is only suggestive. Extant data focuses primarily on motor processes of sequencing and temporal prediction in the basal ganglia (Marsden, 1982). To date, there have only been two studies of non motor sequencing and prediction in humans (Knowlton, Mangels & Squire, 1996; Knowlton et al., 1996). Consequently, our understanding of the cognitive computations of the basal ganglia is mostly speculation based on assumptions regarding the isomorphism of the cognitive and motor computations in the basal ganglia. In one set of studies proposed here, I hope to extend our insight into the nature of the cognitive computations performed by the basal ganglia.

In addition, I intend to examine three varieties of automatic social inference (nonverbal decoding, emotional appraisal, decision making) using the methods of cognitive neuroscience. These domains are treated as non overlapping research topics by social psychologists and if one considers only the behavioral level that social psychologists tend to focus on, they certainly appear to be very different sorts of phenomena. There may be abstract computational commonalties to these different phenomena that will only be revealed through the methodologies of cognitive neuroscience. Through a combination of neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies, I hope to demonstrate that these three types of automatic social inference processes are actually phenotypic variations of a single genotypic computation performed by the basal ganglia.