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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Decoding the neural representation of self and person knowledge with multivariate pattern analysis and data‐driven approaches

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Multivariate pattern analysis and data‐driven approaches to understand how the human brain encodes sensory information and higher level conceptual knowledge have become increasingly dominant in visual and cognitive neuroscience; however, it is only in recent years that these methods have been applied to the domain of social information processing. This review examines recent research in the field of social cognitive neuroscience focusing on how multivariate pattern analysis (e.g., pattern classification, representational similarity analysis) and data‐driven methods (e.g., reverse correlation, intersubject correlation) have been used to decode and characterize high‐level information about the self, other persons, and social groups. We begin with a review of what is known about how self‐referential processing and person perception are represented in the medial prefrontal cortex based on conventional activation‐based neuroimaging approaches. This is followed by a nontechnical overview of current multivariate pattern‐based and data‐driven neuroimaging methods designed to characterize and/or decode neural representations. The remainder of the review focuses on examining how these methods have been applied to the topic of self, person perception, and the perception of social groups. In this review, we highlight recent trends (e.g., analysis of social networks, decoding race and social groups, and the use of naturalistic stimuli) and discuss several theoretical challenges that arise from the application of these new methods to the question of how the brain represents knowledge about the self and others.

This article is categorized under:

  • Neuroscience > Cognition
(a) Overlap of reward and self‐referential processing is largest in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex based on text‐based meta‐analysis in Neurosynth (Yarkoni, Poldrack, Nichols, Van Essen, & Wager, ). Red areas represent results from 671 studies using the term “reward,” blue areas represent results from 127 studies using the term “self referential,” and the yellow areas represent the overlap between the two. Each map was generated using the forward inference procedure and thresholded at a z‐value of five to highlight areas that showed a high probability of being activated across studies given the topic. (b) A cluster in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC) where a cross‐domain classifier trained on positive and negatively valenced material was able to decode self versus other referential thought (Chavez, Heatherton, & Wagner, ). (c) Regions of the vMPFC where a classifier trained on high and low reward‐value could reliably decode self versus other referential thought (Yankouskaya et al., )
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(a) Result of a reverse correlation analysis of the neural response in the dMPFC during natural viewing of a 30‐min motion picture. The top right plot represents the volume‐wise–statistic for a one‐sample t‐test across 34 participants. This timeseries of statistical peaks and troughs was used to extract movie frames corresponding to these timepoints. The bottom plot contains representative frames from these segments demonstrating that the dMPFC responds maximally to scenes involving social interaction between movie characters. (b) An independent set of 132 participants rated the movie segments generated form the reverse correlation procedure from several different brain regions (dMPFC, lateral and medial fusiform and the intraparietal sulcus) on a number of dimensions. Illustrated here are ratings of social complexity showing that video segments derived from the peak responses in the dMPFC were rated as more socially complex than those derived from three other regions with known category preferences.(Reprinted with permission from Wagner et al. (). Copyright 2016 The Authors)
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(a) Patterns of activity in the right fusiform and early visual cortex were associated with participant's biased stereotypic associations between racial, gender, and emotion. (b) After accounting for visual similarity between the faces, the right fusiform and orbitofrontal cortex (not shown) remain significantly associated with participants biased perception of racial and gender categories (Stolier & Freeman, )
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(a) Patterns of activity in the dorsal region of the medial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) during mental simulation of each of four different identities that varied in the personality dimensions of agreeableness and extraversion could be reliably discriminated using multivariate pattern (MVP) classification (Hassabis et al., ). (b) Facial identity decoding in the dMPFC and precuneus for familiar and unfamiliar identities (Visconti di Oleggio Castello et al., ). (c) Regions involved in social cognition demonstrate reliable identity‐specific patterns of activity across split halves of a mentalizing task. These regions were then used in subsequent analyses demonstrating that identity‐specific patterns of activity were associated with predictions based on social psychological theories of person perception (Thornton & Mitchell, ). (d). Characteristics of an familiar individual's social network position, such as centrality, can be decoded from patterns of neural activity associated with short video segments of each individual (Parkinson, Kleinbaum, & Wheatley, )
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