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A wide range of neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), are associated with impairments in social function. Previous studies have shown that individuals with schizophrenia and ASD have deficits in making a wide range of social judgements from faces, including decisions related to threat (such as judgements of approachability) and decisions not related to physical threat (such as judgements of intelligence). We have investigated healthy control participants to see whether there is a common neural system activated during such social decisions, on the basis that deficits in this system may contribute to the impairments seen in these disorders.
We investigated the neural basis of social decision making during judgements of approachability and intelligence from faces in 24 healthy participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We used conjunction analysis to identify common brain regions activated during both tasks.
Activation of the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, inferior prefrontal cortex and cerebellum was seen during performance of both social tasks, compared to simple gender judgements from the same stimuli. Task-specific activations were present in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in the intelligence task and in the inferior and middle temporal cortex in the approachability task.
The present study identified a common network of brain regions activated during the performance of two different forms of social judgement from faces. Dysfunction of this network is likely to contribute to the broad-ranging deficits in social function seen in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and ASD.
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