Spontaneous Neural Encoding of Social Network Position

Nature Human Behavior, Forthcoming

41 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2017 Last revised: 8 Feb 2017

See all articles by Carolyn Parkinson

Carolyn Parkinson

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Adam M. Kleinbaum

Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Strategy & Management Area; Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

Thalia Wheatley

Dartmouth College

Date Written: February 6, 2017

Abstract

Unlike many species that enact social behavior in loose aggregations (e.g., swarms, herds), humans form groups comprised of many long-term, intense, non-reproductive bonds with non-kin. The cognitive demands of navigating such groups are thought to have significantly influenced human brain evolution. Yet, little is known about how and to what extent the human brain encodes the structure of the social networks in which it is embedded. We characterized the social network of an academic cohort (N=277); a subset (N=21) completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study involving viewing individuals who varied in terms of “degrees of separation” from themselves (social distance), the extent to which they are well-connected to well-connected others (eigenvector centrality - EC), and the extent to which they connect otherwise unconnected individuals (brokerage). Understanding these social network position characteristics requires tracking direct relationships, bonds between third parties, and the broader network topology. Pairing network data with multi-voxel pattern analysis, we show that social network position information is accurately perceived and spontaneously activated upon encountering familiar individuals. These findings elucidate how the human brain encodes the structure of its social world, and underscore the importance of integrating an understanding of social networks into the study of social perception.

Keywords: Social Network Analysis, Social Perception, Functional MRI, Multi-Voxel Pattern Analysis

Suggested Citation

Parkinson, Carolyn and Kleinbaum, Adam M. and Wheatley, Thalia, Spontaneous Neural Encoding of Social Network Position (February 6, 2017). Nature Human Behavior, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2894694 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2894694

Carolyn Parkinson (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) ( email )

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States

Adam M. Kleinbaum

Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Strategy & Management Area ( email )

Hanover, NH
United States

HOME PAGE: http://bit.ly/kleinbaum

Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Thalia Wheatley

Dartmouth College ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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