October 26, 2020

Hidden population modes in social brain morphology: Its parts are more than its sum

The complexity of social interactions is a defining property of the human species. Many social neuroscience experiments have sought to map "perspective taking", "empathy", and other canonical psychological constructs to distinguishable brain circuits. This predominant research paradigm was seldom complemented by bottom-up studies of the unknown sources of variation that add up to measures of social brain structure; perhaps due to a lack of large population datasets. We aimed at a systematic de-construction of social brain morphology into its elementary building blocks in the UK Biobank cohort (n=~10,000). Coherent patterns of structural co-variation were explored within a recent atlas of social brain locations, enabled through translating autoencoder algorithms from deep learning. The artificial neural networks learned rich subnetwork representations that became apparent from social brain variation at population scale. The learned subnetworks carried essential information about the co-dependence configurations between social brain regions, with the nucleus accumbens, medial prefrontal cortex, and temporoparietal junction embedded at the core. Some of the uncovered subnetworks contributed to predicting examined social traits in general, while other subnetworks helped predict specific facets of social functioning, such as feelings of loneliness. Our population-level evidence indicates that hidden subsystems of the social brain underpin interindividual variation in dissociable aspects of social lifestyle.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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