People instantaneously evaluate faces with significant agreement on evaluations of social traits. However, the neural basis for such rapid spontaneous face evaluation remains largely unknown. Here, we recorded from 490 neurons in the amygdala and hippocampus in 5 neurosurgical patients and show that amygdala and hippocampal neurons encode a social trait space. We further investigated the temporal evolution and modulation on the social trait representation, and we employed encoding and decoding models to reveal the critical social traits for the trait space. We also recorded from another 259 neurons and replicated our findings using different social traits. Lastly, the neuronal social trait space may have a behavioral consequence likely involved in the abnormal processing of social information in autism. Together, our results suggest that there exists a neuronal population code for a comprehensive social trait space in the human amygdala and hippocampus that underlie spontaneous first impressions.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience