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How does social information influence perception and behavior?

Göttingen innovative project receives research funds from Leibniz Association
Macaques at the primate husbandry of the German Primate Center. Photo: Karin Tilch
Macaques at the primate husbandry of the German Primate Center. Photo: Margrit Hampe
Macaques at the primate husbandry of the German Primate Center. Photo: Margrit Hampe
Two animals sit opposite each other on a transparent touch screen. They can make their decisions dependent on the behavior of their counterpart. Illustration: Igor Kagan
Two animals sit opposite each other on a transparent touch screen. They can make their decisions dependent on the behavior of their counterpart. Illustration: Igor Kagan

We humans – as well as monkeys, our nearest relatives – belong to the species with the highest cognitive abilities. At the same time we are very social and live in complex groups. Whether and how the cognitive abilities of our brain, such as perception, attention, decision-making and movement planning, is related to social interactions will be investigated by a team of scientists from Göttingen. The neuroscientists will receive a total of almost one million Euros from the Leibniz Association for a period of three years. In addition to the German Primate Center (Alexander Gail, Igor Kagan, Hansjörg Scherberger, Stefan Treue), the University and University Medical Center Göttingen (Michael Wibral, Melanie Wilke), the European Neuroscience Institute (Caspar Schwiedrzik) and the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (Fred Wolf) are also involved.

The cognitive functions of the brain developed in socially living communities, such as those characteristic of primates, i.e. monkeys and humans. In order to understand these brain functions, it is therefore important to consider the aspect of social interactions. The neuroscientists from Göttingen want to investigate skills such as perception, attention, decision-making and movement planning in an interactive environment. In these studies, rhesus monkeys are trained to solve tasks on a touch screen. The special feature of this research project is that two animals sit opposite each other, separated by a transparent touch screen, so they can observe what the other is doing. The researchers want to find out how the presence and the actions of a counterpart influence one’s own decisions. To this end, the behavior and abilities are precisely recorded and modern electrophysiological methods are used to investigate how and which nerve cells and their networks work together in the brain.

"Funding from the Leibniz Association will further advance the research direction initiated at the Leibniz ScienceCampus Primate Cognition by combining novel neurophysiological and analytical approaches with our unique dyadic interaction platform," says Igor Kagan.

With the competitive "Leibniz-Cooperative Excellence" program, the Leibniz Association promotes particularly innovative research projects, the success of which requires the cooperative networking of several research institutions.