August 11, 2017
A major challenge of primate neurophysiology, particularly in the domain of social neuroscience, is to adopt more natural behaviors without compromising the ability to relate patterns of neural activity to specific actions or sensory inputs. Traditional approaches have identified neural activity patterns in the amygdala in response to simplified versions of social stimuli such as static images of faces. As a departure from this reduced approach, single images of faces were replaced with arrays of images or videos of conspecifics. These stimuli elicited more natural behaviors and new types of neural responses: (1) attention-gated responses to faces, (2) selective responses to eye contact, and (3) selective responses to touch and somatosensory feedback during the production of facial expressions. An additional advance toward more natural social behaviors in the laboratory was the implementation of dyadic social interactions. Under these conditions, neurons encoded similarly rewards that monkeys delivered to self and to their social partner. These findings reinforce the value of bringing natural, ethologically valid, behavioral tasks under neurophysiological scrutiny. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.