How do we process multiple-person scenario?
(Project THEMPO – ERC StG)
The ability to quickly recognize conspecifics among other entities and to understand rapidly what they are doing, is a fundamental requirement for a social species such as the human. In the past decades, cognitive neuroscientists have gained important knowledge on these abilities, by studying how the human mind/brain recognizes a face or a body, and infers the goal and intention behind the current body pose or activity. However, in real life, a person is most often seen among other persons. For instance, when there is one person who is speaking, it is very likely that she is nearby one or more individuals who are listening. The readiness with which an observer understands that people in the scene are communicating, makes it unlikely that this understanding is achieved through a sequential, one-by-one processing of each person’s face, body posture, motor activity, goal, intention, emotion, and so on. Our work starts from the hypothesis that the human brain must be equipped with specialized mechanisms to parse the environment, select the portion in which a social interaction is happening, and process that portion of the environment as a whole. Our main objective is to explain how this is done, in terms of cognitive stages and neural operations. In this effort, we take advantage of cognitive manipulations, neurostimulation methodology (TMS) and advanced analytical approaches to decode information latent in neural patterns recorded with functional neuroimaging (fMRI).