The programme in the summer term 2021
July 1, 2021, 15.00:
Martin Schulte-Rüther (University Medical Center Göttingen): Mechanisms of face-to-face social interaction – a clinical neuroscience perspective
Nonverbal social signals during face-to-face communication (such as facial expressions and eye gaze) are particularly important aspects of social interaction. These cues allow us to infer the emotions and intentions of another person and to tune our own behavior to the others’ mental and emotional states. Furthermore, non-verbal social signals also serve as feedback cues which guide decision making and the adaptation of subsequent behavior in social settings. For example, observing a warm smile or “thumbs up” from somebody else may increase the probability to perform a specific behavior more often, where as a frown or a disdainful gaze may cause avoidance. Substantial progress has been made in recent years to uncover the mechanisms of social interaction processing in the brain, and their alteration in psychiatric disorders. However, atypical social functioning is often rooted in divergent development. In some cases, processing of social cues appears to be disturbed from early on (for example in developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder). In other cases, later stages of social development are particular important (for example in psychiatric disorders which peak in later childhood and adolescence, such as social anxiety and depression).
In this talk, I will demonstrate how social interaction and learning from social cues can be investigated using neuroscientific methods and quantitative behavioral assessment techniques. This includes methods such as fMRI, fNIRS, EMG, eye-tracking and video-based facial analysis. I will take a developmental and clinical perspective and will show how the neuroscientific investigation of facial expression, eye-gaze behavior and social learning may foster advances in the understanding of developmental and psychiatric disorders.
June 3, 2021, 15.00:
Lauren Robinson (Georgia State University / KLIVV Vienna): Primate personality and health, welfare, and happiness
Animals are individuals and as such, they have differ in how they think, feel, and act, known as their personality. These differences in personality may explain why some animals do better in captivity than others and help us understand differences in their welfare and happiness. In this talk I will discuss the relationship between primate welfare and personality with a focus on my own work on observer ratings of welfare.
May 6, 2021, 15.00:
Ian Phillips (John Hopkins University): Bewitched by Blindsight
Textbooks tell us that, across a range of paradigms and conditions, perception parts ways with consciousness. The poster child is blindsight: a neuropsychological disorder defined by residual visual function following destruction of primary visual cortex. Blindsight is especially striking because residual visual function apparently includes capacities for voluntary discrimination in the total absence of awareness. Together with other neuropsychological disorders (e.g., hemineglect and visual form agnosia) and studies of neurotypical vision (e.g., under inattention or suppression), blindsight has revolutionised our thinking about visual consciousness, seemingly revealing a dramatic disconnect between performance and awareness, and motivating diverse theories of the neural and cognitive basis of consciousness. Counter to this orthodoxy, I’ll argue that blindsight is in fact severely and qualitatively degraded but nonetheless conscious vision. This residual conscious vision appears unconscious only because of conservative and unstable response criteria. A series of psychophysical and functional arguments against this interpretation are answered. And a range of consistent behavioral and first-person evidence is presented. This evidence helps answer the question of what it is like to have blindsight, as well as to account for the conservative and selectively unstable response criteria exhibited by patients. In closing, I’ll consider what lessons we can learn for the study of consciousness more generally, both in clinical and neurotypical vision.
April 29, 2021, 15.00:
Manon K Schweinfurth (University of St. Andrews): The origins of reciprocal help
If only those behaviours evolve that increase the actor’s own survival and reproductive success, then it might come as a surprise that cooperative behaviours, e.g., helping by providing benefits to others, are a widespread phenomenon. Many animals cooperate even with unrelated individuals in various contexts, like providing care or food. One possibility to explain these behaviours is reciprocity. Reciprocal cooperation, i.e., helping those that were helpful before, is a ubiquitous and important trait of human sociality. Still, the evolutionary and psychological origins of it are largely unclear, mainly because it is believed that other animals do not exchange help reciprocally. Consequently, reciprocity is suggested to have evolved in the human lineage only. In contrast to this, I propose that reciprocity is not necessarily cognitively demanding and likely to be widespread. In my talk, I will first shed light on the mechanisms of reciprocal cooperation in Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). In a series of studies, my colleagues and I have demonstrated that Norway rats reciprocally exchange goods and services between and within different commodities and independent of kinship. Furthermore, to understand the evolutionary origins of human reciprocity, and whether it is shared with other animals, I will then discuss evidence for reciprocity in non-human primates, which are our closest living relatives. A thorough analysis of the findings showed that reciprocity is present and, for example, not confined to unrelated individuals, but that the choice of commodities can impact the likelihood of reciprocation. Based on my findings, I conclude that reciprocal cooperation in non-human animals is present but largely neglected and not restricted to humans. In order to deepen our understanding of the origins of reciprocity in more general, future studies should investigate when and how reciprocity in non-human animals emerged and how it is maintained.