Foraging for Information in the Prefrontal Cortex
The ability to monitor, learn from, and respond to social information is essential for many highly social animals, including humans. Deficits to this capacity are associated with numerous psychopathologies, including autism spectrum disorders, social anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia. To understand the neural mechanisms supporting social information seeking behavior requires understanding this behavior in its natural context, and presenting animals with species-appropriate stimuli that will elicit the behavior in the laboratory. In this dissertation, I describe a novel behavioral paradigm I developed for investigating social information seeking behavior in rhesus macaques in a laboratory setting, with the use of naturalistic videos of freely-behaving conspecifics as stimuli. I recorded neural activity in the orbitofrontal and lateral prefrontal cortex of monkeys as they engaged in this task, and found evidence for a rich but sparse representation of natural behaviors in both areas, particularly in the orbitofrontal cortex. This sparse encoding of conspecifics' behaviors represents the raw material for social information foraging decisions.
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