People as Contexts: A Relational Account of Person Representation and Memory
Abstract: How do we represent and remember others? A long history of laboratory-based social cognitive neuroscience research has emphasized how individuals build representations of others through the use of person-specific attributes (e.g traits, mental states). But outside the lab, we often learn about others in rich social contexts comprised of dynamic social interactions that influence behavior. Inspired by work in non-social domains, in this talk I will propose the idea that just like space and time, people can act as contexts and the relationships between individuals serve as the structural basis for social memory and neural representations. I will provide preliminary support for this idea using a naturalistic fMRI study in which individuals watched several hours of a character-drama depicting interactions between 11 main characters and later performed a series of social memory tasks. Using a variety of analytic and empirical approaches, we find that the representation and recall of individuals is organized around their relationships with others, rather than the similarity of person or situation specific attributes such as trait impressions, social groups, locations, or actions. Together, these findings suggest that in a naturalistic unconstrained context, a key aspect of social cognition is inferring and representing how individuals are connected to each other, rather than focusing primarily on the attributes we may use to describe them.
This seminar series is devoted to highlighting innovative, disruptive advances in cognitive neuroscience. Innovators in Cognitive Neuroscience also is dedicated to leveraging science as a vehicle for social justice. Through this seminar series we hope to recognize outstanding research conducted by historically underrepresented groups (HURG) in Cognitive Neuroscience and related fields, including women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and people/individuals with disabilities. Innovators in Cognitive Neuroscience is a formal collaboration between Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Harvard University, Columbia University, and Gallaudet University. It is funded by the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. ASL interpretation is provided for all ICN talks.