Role of the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex during the disambiguation of social cues in working memory


Human social interactions are complex behaviors requiring the concerted effort of multiple neural systems to track and monitor the individuals around us. Cognitively, adjusting our behavior on the basis of changing social cues such as facial expressions relies on working memory and the ability to disambiguate, or separate, the representations of overlapping stimuli resulting from viewing the same individual with different facial expressions. We conducted an fMRI experiment examining the brain regions contributing to the encoding, maintenance, and retrieval of overlapping identity information during working memory using a delayed match-to-sample task. In the overlapping condition, two faces from the same individual with different facial expressions were presented at sample. In the nonoverlapping condition, the two sample faces were from two different individuals with different expressions. fMRI activity was assessed by contrasting the overlapping and nonoverlapping conditions at sample, delay, and test. The lateral orbitofrontal cortex showed increased fMRI signal in the overlapping condition in all three phases of the delayed match-to-sample task and increased functional connectivity with the hippocampus when encoding overlapping stimuli. The hippocampus showed increased fMRI signal at test. These data suggest that lateral orbitofrontal cortex helps encode and maintain representations of overlapping stimuli in working memory, whereas the orbitofrontal cortex and hippocampus contribute to the successful retrieval of overlapping stimuli. We suggest that the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and hippocampus play a role in encoding, maintaining, and retrieving social cues, especially when multiple interactions with an individual need to be disambiguated in a rapidly changing social context in order to make appropriate social responses.



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Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience



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copyright Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013