A Map for Social Navigation in the Human Brain

Rita Morais Tavares, Avi Mendelsohn, Yael Grossman, Christian Hamilton Williams, Matthew Shapiro, Yaacov Trope, Daniela Schiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deciphering the neural mechanisms of social behavior has propelled the growth of social neuroscience. The exact computations of the social brain, however, remain elusive. Here we investigated how the human brain tracks ongoing changes in social relationships using functional neuroimaging. Participants were lead characters in a role-playing game in which they were to find a new home and a job through interactions with virtual cartoon characters. We found that a two-dimensional geometric model of social relationships, a "social space" framed by power and affiliation, predicted hippocampal activity. Moreover, participants who reported better social skills showed stronger covariance between hippocampal activity and "movement" through "social space." The results suggest that the hippocampus is crucial for social cognition, and imply that beyond framing physical locations, the hippocampus computes a more general, inclusive, abstract, and multidimensional cognitive map consistent with its role in episodic memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-243
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Mark Baxter, Meehan Crist, Harold Koenigsberg, Ifat Levy, Ushma Neill, and Galit Yovel for helpful comments and discussions; Scott Berger and Caroline Overacker for assistance with behavioral data analysis; Jochen Weber for technical advice on Neuroelf; and Taylor Williams for the original illustrations of the game characters. D.S. is supported by the Klingenstein-Simons Foundation Award in the Neurosciences.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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