Temporal Dynamics of the Neural Representation of Identity and Social Connections

Sarah Dziura

Advisor: James C Thompson, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Martin Wiener, Craig McDonald

David J. King Hall, #1019
April 23, 2018, 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM


Rapid and accurate perception of faces is a necessary human skill. We have the ability to quickly perceive and identify individual faces in different visual contexts. We can also recall complex knowledge about those faces, such as their social relationships with others, but the precise timing of this process has not been examined. This study addressed these questions through the utilization of electroencephalography (EEG) and representational similarity analysis (RSA). In experiment 1, participants became familiar with a 10-person social network, and were then shown faces within that network while EEG was recorded. The similarity structure of neural patterns in response to these faces was compared with models of visual, identity, and social closeness, to understand the temporal dynamics of the cognitive processes related to face perception. In experiment 2, participants viewed the same faces and were directed to either attend to the friendships of the faces seen (social condition), or physical locations related to the faces (non-social condition). Social and non-social conditions were compared to assess whether social network relationship information present in the brain is attention-dependent.  In both experiments, visual similarity, face space, and identity representations became significant at approximately early after face onset. Social network closeness then became significant between approximately 200-300 ms after face onset. This model was not significantly modulated by explicit attention to the social connections of the faces. These findings indicate that information about social network relationships is accessed shortly following the visual perception of faces. This data supports the proposal that information about social connections is closely linked to face identity, and representation of this information in the brain is largely task independent