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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social Signals Analyzed at the Single Cell Level: Someone is Looking at Me, Something Moved!

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

In the superior temporal sulcus (STS) of the macaque brain there are populations of cells which respond selectively to faces. Studies of these cells reveal that they are very sensitive to the direction of eye gaze and posture of the head of other subjects. It is argued that one function of the cells is to enable analysis of where other individuals are directing their attention. Given this selectivity for complex socially relevant stimuli it is surprising that the STS contains cells that respond to touch anywhere on the body or to any movement seen in the visual environment. We have investigated these tactile and motion sensitive cells to determine their behavioural significance. In the awake, behaving monkey we found that the critical dimension for polymodal coding is whether or not the sensations are expected. Tactile stimulation out of sight cannot be predicted and elicits neuronal responses. By contrast, when the monkey can see and, therefore, predict impending contact, or when the monkey touches a familiar surface in a predictable location, cell responses are reduced or abolished. In an analogous way some cells are unresponsive to the sight of the monkey's own limbs moving but respond to the sight of other moving stimuli. Since unpredictable sensations are often caused by other animals, the STS area appears well suited to defining sensory stimuli that are important in social or predator/prey interactions.



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