3 March 2021: Navigating social space

Daniela Schiller
Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry
Friedman Brain Institute
Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai

How do we place ourselves within a social structure? Social encounters provide opportunities to become intimate or estranged from others and to gain or lose power over them. The locations of others on the axes of power and intimacy can serve as reference points for our own position in the social space. The goal of our research is to uncover the neural encoding of these social coordinates. This talk will describe recent experiments tracking the online neural encoding of the perceived locations of others relative to us through dynamic interactions with multiple peers. The talk will also describe initial attempts to uncover a “grid-like” representation of social space, as well as preliminary findings from studies testing these predictions in psychiatric patients presenting with a broad dimensional range of psychopathology. Altogether, the results suggest that navigational computations are potentially crucial for representing and tracking dynamic social relationships, and imply that beyond framing physical locations, the hippocampus and related regions compute a more general, inclusive, abstract, and multidimensional cognitive map consistent with its role in episodic memory.