social memories in the brain
Is there a specific memory for events involving people? Researchers have identified the internal part of the prefrontal cortex as being the key structure for memorising social information.
The study used a functional magnetic resonance imaging technique to measure cerebral activity in 17 volunteers while they accomplished a memory task involving pictures of social scenes (interacting individuals) and non-social scenes (landscapes with no people). Previous studies performed by the same research teams had associated this prefrontal region with thinking processes about self and others. Their work suggested that in addition to emotions, the analysis of specifically human information could facilitate learning and memorisation, involving cerebral structures specialised in analysing mental states and empathy. This work opens important perspectives regarding our understanding of the mechanisms of human recollections and mental disorders (schizophrenia, autism) which affect social and relational skills.
The prefrontal cortex is of the frontal lobes of the brain, lying in front of the motor and premotor areas. This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression and moderating correct social behavior. It’s basic activity is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.
J Cogn Neurosci. 2007 Feb;19(2):351-62.
Modulation of memory formation by stimulus content: specific role of the medial prefrontal cortex in the successful encoding of social pictures.Harvey PO, Fossati P, Lepage M.
McGill University, Quebec, Canada.
It is unclear whether the involvement of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) during encoding is restricted to the evaluative processing of to-be-encoded stimuli or if it is instead actively engaged during memory formation. The difficulty of assessing the contribution of the mPFC to encoding based on previous neuroimaging studies partly arises from the use of several types of stimuli, such as emotional or social ones. These different types of stimulus content could differently modulate mPFC activity during memory formation and thus partly explain the variable contribution of this region to encoding. Using emotional/neutral and social/nonsocial pictures, we conducted an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study using a subsequent memory paradigm as the main analytical strategy. We observed that the brain activity in the dorsal and orbital mPFC is significantly and specifically predictive of the successful encoding of social compared with nonsocial pictures. In contrast, the activity in the amygdala specifically predicts the successful encoding of emotional compared with neutral pictures. The modulation of the mPFC by social information in a memory encoding context could be associated with the initiation of self-referential processes whose contribution is to enhance memory formation.
PMID: 17280522 [PubMed – in process]