The neural basis of social decision making
Dr. Watson will work with Dr. Platt and Mr. Shepherd at Duke University Medical Center studying a primate model of social deficits. In this project, this research group will investigate the role of the orbito-frontal cortex (OFC) on a task which measures the motivational to see various images, including those of other monkeys. A comprehensive study of the OFC neurons will determine whether there are neurons in the OFC that respond to social stimuli, those that do not, whether different OFC neurons respond differently to the various classes of social stimuli, and whether OFC functioning is critical to normal responses to social stimuli. To take this study a step further, they will also determine how the manipulation of neurochemical systems, particularly those involving oxytocin and serotonin, affects social motivation and OFC function in monkeys. As dysregulation of the oxytocin and serotonin systems have been linked to deficits in social bonding and social recognition, this investigation will provide information to researchers interested in developing pharmacotherapies which target this behavior. What this means for people with autism: These two fellowships will work under Dr. Michael Platt to utilize an animal model to better characterize and identify the neurobiological basis of social gaze, social attention and joint attention. The molecular and biochemical systems responsible for social functioning also studied in the Platt laboratory could lead to the development of drugs designed to alleviate social pathologies found in autism, and the specific targets of such drugs on activity of brain regions which underlie social behavior.