Brain center for social choices discovered in a poker study

July 5, 2012, Duke University
brain

Although many areas of the human brain are devoted to social tasks like detecting another person nearby, a new study has found that one small region carries information only for decisions during social interactions. Specifically, the area is active when we encounter a worthy opponent and decide whether to deceive them.

A brain imaging study conducted by researchers at the Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science (D-CIDES) put human subjects through a functional while playing a simplified game of poker against a computer and human opponents. Using to sort out what amount of each area of the brain was processing, the team found only one brain region -- the temporal-parietal junction, or TPJ --- carried information that was unique to decisions against the human opponent.

Some of the time, the subjects were dealt an obviously weak hand. The researchers wanted to see whether they could watch the player calculate whether to bluff his opponent. The in the TPJ told the researchers whether the subject would soon bluff against a human opponent, especially if that opponent was judged to be skilled. But against a computer, signals in the TPJ did not predict the subject's decisions.

The TPJ is in a boundary area of the brain, and may be an intersection for two streams of information, said lead researcher McKell Carter, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke. It brings together a flow of attentional information and biological information, such as "is that another person?"

Carter observed that in general, participants paid more attention to their opponent than their computer opponent while playing poker, which is consistent with humans' drive to be social.

Throughout the poker game experiment, regions of the brain that are typically thought to be social in nature did not carry information specific to a social context. "The fact that all of these that should be specifically social are used in other circumstances is a testament to the remarkable flexibility and efficiency of our brains," said Carter.

"There are fundamental neural differences between decisions in social and non-social situations," said D-CIDES Director Scott Huettel, the Hubbard professor of psychology & neuroscience at Duke and senior author of the study. "Social information may cause our brain to play by different rules than non-social information, and it will be important for both scientists and policymakers to understand what causes us to approach a decision in a social or a non-social manner.

"Understanding how the identifies important competitors and collaborators -- those people who are most relevant for our future behavior -- will lead to new insights into social phenomena like dehumanization and empathy," Huettel added.

The study, supported by National Institutes of Health, appears in the July 6 Science.

Explore further: How humans predict other's decisions

More information: "A Distinct Role of the Temporal-parietal Junction in Predicting Socially Guided Decisions," R. McKell Carter, Daniel L. Bowling, Crystal Reeck, and Scott A. Huettel, Science, July 6, 2012. DOI 10.1126/science.1219681

Related Stories

How humans predict other's decisions

June 20, 2012
Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Japan have uncovered two brain signals in the human prefrontal cortex involved in how humans predict the decisions of other people. Their results suggest that the ...

It's not solitaire: Brain activity differs when one plays against others

February 6, 2012
Researchers have found a way to study how our brains assess the behavior – and likely future actions – of others during competitive social interactions. Their study, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the ...

Recommended for you

Brain structure linked to symptoms of restless legs syndrome

April 25, 2018
People with restless legs syndrome may have changes in a portion of the brain that processes sensory information, according to a study published in the April 25, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the ...

Imaging may allow safe tPA treatment of patients with unwitnessed strokes

April 25, 2018
A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators may lead to a significant expansion in the number of stroke patients who can safely be treated with intravenous tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), the "clot ...

New link between sleep arousals and body temperature may also be connected to SIDS

April 25, 2018
Brief arousals during sleep—sometimes as many as ten to fifteen per night—appear random in time and occur in humans and even in animals.

Ethics debate overdue in human brain research: experts

April 25, 2018
What if human brain tissue implanted into a pig transferred some of the donor's self-awareness and memories?

Brain activity linked to stress changes chemical codes

April 24, 2018
Five years ago, a team of University of California San Diego neurobiologists published surprising findings describing how rats' brain cells adopted new chemical codes when subjected to significant changes in natural light ...

Scientists develop new method that uses light to manage neuropathic pain in mice

April 24, 2018
For patients with neuropathic pain, a chronic condition affecting 7 to 8 percent of the European population, extreme pain and sensitivity are a daily reality. There is currently no effective treatment. Scientists from EMBL ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.