A neural explanation for ‘monkey see, monkey do’


Credit: Filmed by C.J. Machado and D. Amaral (UC Davis) and post-processed by J. Sliwa and W.A. Freiwald (The Rockefeller University).

Researchers have identified a neural circuit in primates that is exclusively devoted to the analysis of social interactions, like grooming, playing, and fighting. Recognizing social interactions and their intents, so as to better process their world, is a major trait in primates, yet little is known about the neural circuitry that underlies this process. To gain more insights, J. Sliwa and W. A. Freiwald used whole-brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the brain activity of four rhesus monkeys as they watched videos. The videos showed monkey-monkey, monkey-object, and object-object interactions, among others. The authors found that brain networks traditionally known to process visual features were highly active when the monkeys observed social interactions between monkeys on video, and they further identified a neural network in the medial and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex that was only engaged during observation of monkey-monkey interactions. Intriguingly, the authors note that the characteristics of this social interaction network bear resemblance to neural systems in humans associated with social interaction. Thus, it appears that macaques shares functional and anatomical characteristics of brain regions with humans, Sliwa and Freiwald say.


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