Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

’Shifty-eyed’ monkeys offer window into brain’s social reflexes

16.09.2003


Neurobiologists at Duke University Medical Center have found the strongest evidence yet that monkeys show the same keen "social reflexes" that humans do -- shifting their attention in response to the direction of gaze of another individual. The researchers said their findings mean that monkeys can provide a critically important animal model of how the brain controls what humans pay attention to in social situations.



Such a model would enable scientists to better understand how processing of social attention works in the brain, and how it can go awry in such disorders as autism. Such basic studies, said the neurobiologists, could lead to better treatments for autism and better methods to teach autistic children.

The researchers, post-doctoral fellow Robert Deaner and Assistant Professor Michael Platt, reported their findings in the Sept. 16, 2003, issue of Current Biology. The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Eye Institute.


In their experiments, the researchers compared the eye movements of humans and rhesus macaque monkeys when they were shown images of monkeys looking either to the left or right.

The researchers would first concentrate the human or monkey test subjects’ attention to the center of a computer screen by showing them a yellow square. The subjects would then be shown either another square or an image of a monkey looking either left or right. Immediately after that, the face would disappear and to the left or right on the screen a yellow square would flash. The researchers used a magnetic coil technique to measure with high accuracy and speed the eye movements of the subjects.

Explained Platt, "Our prediction was that if seeing a monkey looking in one direction or another actually changes where you’re paying attention, then you should shift your gaze faster if the box appears in the direction in which that monkey face was looking and slower in the other direction. Which is exactly what we found with both humans and monkeys." Thus, he said, the subjects were "covertly" shifting their attention before obviously shifting their gaze. Although prior studies have shown that monkeys sometimes turn their head and eyes when they see another individual turn and look to the side, the study by Deaner and Platt provides the first evidence that monkeys reflexively and internally shift their attention where another individual is looking.

The subjects also provided other more subtle clues that their attention had reflexively shifted in the direction of the monkey-image gaze, said Platt. An instant after the monkey images appeared, the subjects showed infinitesimal, involuntary eye movements in the same direction the monkey image was looking, found Deaner and Platt.

Also importantly, said Platt, the shift in attention was very temporary, as would be expected if it were not immediately reinforced by something happening in the direction of the monkey-image gaze. The reflexive tendency to follow gaze is, indeed, powerful, said Platt.

"It’s really striking when you’re sitting there, and you look at these faces pop up," he said. "You feel yourself wanting to look in that same direction."

Platt said that the finding offers the promise of a manipulable animal model of "social attention" -- how the human brain assesses the goals and intentions of other humans and responds to them.

"It’s been long known what parts of the human brain are involved in identifying and recognizing other individuals as well as those parts of the brain involved in shifting attention," said Platt. "And there have been new magnetic resonance imaging studies that show that both these parts of the brain respond to such social cues as gaze.

"But to get a real understanding of how this response is accomplished at a neuronal level, you need an animal model that you can manipulate physiologically," said Platt. "This is the first time it has been shown that such a cognitive ability corresponds so exquisitely in humans and monkeys."

Besides offering a basic understanding of the neural machinery of such social reflexes, said Platt, such a model could yield insights into such disorders as autism.

"Children with autism tend not to orient to other individuals," he said. "They don’t tend to look other people in the eye, and in particular they show a strong deficit in shifting their attention where another individual is looking or paying attention."

Such deficits not only cause problems for autistic children in everyday social interactions, said Platt, but also in teaching them.

"When you’re teaching another person, you often engage with them in ’joint attention,’ where you establish attentive contact and undergo a give and take, as you both concentrate on something," said Platt. "You often don’t see that capability in autistic individuals."

To understand the neural functions of such social processing, Platt and his colleagues are embarking on studies in which they will first study the responses of nerve cells in parts of the brain devoted to shifting attention to determine if social information influences patterns of brain activity there. In future studies, they plan to alter or disrupt neurons or structures in the social-processing regions of the monkeys’ brains, and explore whether the resulting behaviors mimic the symptoms of autism.

Also, he said, the researchers can explore the environmental contribution to autism by studying the effects of manipulating the animals’ social surroundings during their development.

Dennis Meredith | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/
http://www.duke.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>