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How do we interact with others, and why? Human and nonhuman primate brains have evolved to deal with increasing demands of dynamic social interactions. Social behaviors are heavily reinforcement driven, whether their motivating factors are physical rewards, such as food and sex, or more abstract rewards, such as vicarious experience and interpersonal reputation. Investigating how the brain computes social preferences and decisions can offer an ecologically valid and efficient way of unlocking the mystery of the mind. Elucidating the neural basis of social behavior will ultimately help treat social deficits in numerous psychiatric disorders.
My research is aimed at understanding the neural mechanisms responsible for social cognition. My laboratory focuses on how reward-related areas of the brain signal social preferences and generate social decisions. To answer our questions, we apply both neurophysiological and neuroendocrinological approaches while nonhuman primates are actively engaged in social interactions. We investigate neuronal representations as well as neuromodulatory actions of hormones, like oxytocin, in the reward-related brain regions during social behavior. We also study fundamental aspects of reward-guided decision-making in order to better understand how basic neural mechanisms are recruited to mediate social behavior.