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Social cognition, the male brain and the autism spectrum.
Behavioral studies have shown that, at a population level, women perform better on tests of social cognition and empathy than men. Furthermore Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), which are characterized by impairments in social functioning and empathy, occur more commonly in males than females. These findings have led to the hypothesis that differences in the functioning of the social brain between males and females contribute to the greater vulnerability of males to ASD and the suggestion that ASD may represent an extreme form of the male brain. Here we sought to investigate this hypothesis by determining: (i) whether males and females differ in social brain function, and (ii) whether any sex differences in social brain function are exaggerated in individuals with ASD. Using fMRI we show that males and females differ markedly in social brain function when making social decisions from faces (compared to simple sex judgements) especially when making decisions of an affective nature, with the greatest sex differences in social brain activation being in the inferior frontal cortex (IFC). We also demonstrate that this difference is exaggerated in individuals with ASD, who show an extreme male pattern of IFC function. These results show that males and females differ significantly in social brain function and support the view that sex differences in the social brain contribute to the greater vulnerability of males to ASDs.
Authors: Raphael Bernier, Benjamin Aaronson, Anna Kresse.
Published: 04-09-2014
Electroencephalography (EEG) is an effective, efficient, and noninvasive method of assessing and recording brain activity. Given the excellent temporal resolution, EEG can be used to examine the neural response related to specific behaviors, states, or external stimuli. An example of this utility is the assessment of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in humans through the examination of the EEG mu rhythm. The EEG mu rhythm, oscillatory activity in the 8-12 Hz frequency range recorded from centrally located electrodes, is suppressed when an individual executes, or simply observes, goal directed actions. As such, it has been proposed to reflect activity of the MNS. It has been theorized that dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) plays a contributing role in the social deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The MNS can then be noninvasively examined in clinical populations by using EEG mu rhythm attenuation as an index for its activity. The described protocol provides an avenue to examine social cognitive functions theoretically linked to the MNS in individuals with typical and atypical development, such as ASD. 
18 Related JoVE Articles!
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Marble Burying and Nestlet Shredding as Tests of Repetitive, Compulsive-like Behaviors in Mice
Authors: Mariana Angoa-Pérez, Michael J. Kane, Denise I. Briggs, Dina M. Francescutti, Donald M. Kuhn.
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious and debilitating psychiatric conditions and each constitutes a significant public health concern, particularly in children. Both of these conditions are highlighted by the repeated expression of meaningless behaviors. Individuals with OCD often show checking, frequent hand washing, and counting. Children with ASDs also engage in repetitive tapping, arm or hand flapping, and rocking. These behaviors can vary widely in intensity and frequency of expression. More intense forms of repetitive behaviors can even result in injury (e.g. excessive grooming, hand washing, and self-stimulation). These behaviors are therefore very disruptive and make normal social discourse difficult. Treatment options for repetitive behaviors in OCD and ASDs are somewhat limited and there is great interest in developing more effective therapies for each condition. Numerous animal models for evaluating compulsive-like behaviors have been developed over the past three decades. Perhaps the animal models with the greatest validity and ease of use are the marble burying test and the nestlet shredding test. Both tests take advantage of the fact that the target behaviors occur spontaneously in mice. In the marble burying test, 20 marbles are arrayed on the surface of clean bedding. The number of marbles buried in a 30 min session is scored by investigators blind to the treatment or status of the subjects. In the nestlet shredding test, a nestlet comprised of pulped cotton fiber is preweighed and placed on top of cage bedding and the amount of the nestlet remaining intact after a 30 min test session is determined. Presently, we describe protocols for and show movie documentation of marble burying and nestlet shredding. Both tests are easily and accurately scored and each is sensitive to small changes in the expression of compulsive-like behaviors that result from genetic manipulations, disease, or head injury.
Behavior, Issue 82, compulsive-like behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), marble burying, nestlet shredding, TPH2 KO mice
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Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Authors: Lindsay M. Carini, Christopher A. Murgatroyd, Benjamin C. Nephew.
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
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Harvesting Sperm and Artificial Insemination of Mice
Authors: Amanda R. Duselis, Paul B. Vrana.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Rodents of the genus Peromyscus (deer mice) are the most prevalent native North American mammals. Peromyscus species are used in a wide range of research including toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral, and genetic studies. Here they provide a useful model for demonstrations of artificial insemination. Methods similar to those displayed here have previously been used in several deer mouse studies, yet no detailed protocol has been published. Here we demonstrate the basic method of artificial insemination. This method entails extracting the testes from the rodent, then isolating the sperm from the epididymis and vas deferens. The mature sperm, now in a milk mixture, are placed in the female’s reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. Fertilization is counted as day 0 for timing of embryo development. Embryos can then be retrieved at the desired time-point and manipulated. Artificial insemination can be used in a variety of rodent species where exact embryo timing is crucial or hard to obtain. This technique is vital for species or strains (including most Peromyscus) which may not mate immediately and/or where mating is hard to assess. In addition, artificial insemination provides exact timing for embryo development either in mapping developmental progress and/or transgenic work. Reduced numbers of animals can be used since fertilization is guaranteed. This method has been vital to furthering the Peromyscus system, and will hopefully benefit others as well.
Developmental Biology, Issue 3, sperm, mouse, artificial insemination, dissection
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Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Authors: Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, Sherry A. Ferguson.
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g. bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g. distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e. random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g. shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
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Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Authors: Jacklyn D. Smith, Jong M. Rho, Susan A. Masino, Richelle Mychasiuk.
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
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Sex Stratified Neuronal Cultures to Study Ischemic Cell Death Pathways
Authors: Stacy L. Fairbanks, Rebekah Vest, Saurabh Verma, Richard J. Traystman, Paco S. Herson.
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Sex differences in neuronal susceptibility to ischemic injury and neurodegenerative disease have long been observed, but the signaling mechanisms responsible for those differences remain unclear. Primary disassociated embryonic neuronal culture provides a simplified experimental model with which to investigate the neuronal cell signaling involved in cell death as a result of ischemia or disease; however, most neuronal cultures used in research today are mixed sex. Researchers can and do test the effects of sex steroid treatment in mixed sex neuronal cultures in models of neuronal injury and disease, but accumulating evidence suggests that the female brain responds to androgens, estrogens, and progesterone differently than the male brain. Furthermore, neonate male and female rodents respond differently to ischemic injury, with males experiencing greater injury following cerebral ischemia than females. Thus, mixed sex neuronal cultures might obscure and confound the experimental results; important information might be missed. For this reason, the Herson Lab at the University of Colorado School of Medicine routinely prepares sex-stratified primary disassociated embryonic neuronal cultures from both hippocampus and cortex. Embryos are sexed before harvesting of brain tissue and male and female tissue are disassociated separately, plated separately, and maintained separately. Using this method, the Herson Lab has demonstrated a male-specific role for the ion channel TRPM2 in ischemic cell death. In this manuscript, we share and discuss our protocol for sexing embryonic mice and preparing sex-stratified hippocampal primary disassociated neuron cultures. This method can be adapted to prepare sex-stratified cortical cultures and the method for embryo sexing can be used in conjunction with other protocols for any study in which sex is thought to be an important determinant of outcome.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, male, female, sex, neuronal culture, ischemia, cell death, neuroprotection
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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Assessing Differences in Sperm Competitive Ability in Drosophila
Authors: Shu-Dan Yeh, Carolus Chan, José M. Ranz.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e. selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5. Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes. Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Spermatozoa, Drosophila melanogaster, Biological Evolution, Phenotype, genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, double-mating experiment, sperm competitive ability, male fertility, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal model
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Authors: Letitia R. Naigles, Andrea T. Tovar.
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1 Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23 However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25 Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g., vocabulary),5 or include a significant motor component (e.g., pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16 We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22 This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26 This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g., laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24 Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
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Peering into the Dynamics of Social Interactions: Measuring Play Fighting in Rats
Authors: Brett T. Himmler, Vivien C. Pellis, Sergio M. Pellis.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content of play following an experimental treatment.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Behavior, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Play behavior, play, fighting, wrestling, grooming, allogrooming, social interaction, rat, behavioral analysis, animal model
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Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Authors: Noah J. Sasson, Jed T. Elison.
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1, promote early identification2, and inform treatment3. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8 and abnormal brain functioning9, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
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Assessment of Social Interaction Behaviors
Authors: Oksana Kaidanovich-Beilin, Tatiana Lipina, Igor Vukobradovic, John Roder, James R. Woodgett.
Institutions: Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Social interactions are a fundamental and adaptive component of the biology of numerous species. Social recognition is critical for the structure and stability of the networks and relationships that define societies. For animals, such as mice, recognition of conspecifics may be important for maintaining social hierarchy and for mate choice 1. A variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized by disruptions in social behavior and social recognition, including depression, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia. Studies of humans as well as animal models (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus) have identified genes involved in the regulation of social behavior 2. To assess sociability in animal models, several behavioral tests have been developed (reviewed in 3). Integrative research using animal models and appropriate tests for social behavior may lead to the development of improved treatments for social psychopathologies. The three-chamber paradigm test known as Crawley's sociability and preference for social novelty protocol has been successfully employed to study social affiliation and social memory in several inbred and mutant mouse lines (e.g. 4-7). The main principle of this test is based on the free choice by a subject mouse to spend time in any of three box's compartments during two experimental sessions, including indirect contact with one or two mice with which it is unfamiliar. To quantitate social tendencies of the experimental mouse, the main tasks are to measure a) the time spent with a novel conspecific and b) preference for a novel vs. a familiar conspecific. Thus, the experimental design of this test allows evaluation of two critical but distinguishable aspects of social behavior, such as social affiliation/motivation, as well as social memory and novelty. "Sociability" in this case is defined as propensity to spend time with another mouse, as compared to time spent alone in an identical but empty chamber 7. "Preference for social novelty" is defined as propensity to spend time with a previously unencountered mouse rather than with a familiar mouse 7. This test provides robust results, which then must be carefully analyzed, interpreted and supported/confirmed by alternative sociability tests. In addition to specific applications, Crawley's sociability test can be included as an important component of general behavioral screen of mutant mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Mice, behavioral test, phenotyping, social interaction
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Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Authors: Keith J. Yoder, Matthew K. Belmonte.
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al., 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
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Measuring Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Authors: Jason R. Themanson.
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
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The Resident-intruder Paradigm: A Standardized Test for Aggression, Violence and Social Stress
Authors: Jaap M. Koolhaas, Caroline M. Coppens, Sietse F. de Boer, Bauke Buwalda, Peter Meerlo, Paul J.A. Timmermans.
Institutions: University Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This video publication explains in detail the experimental protocol of the resident-intruder paradigm in rats. This test is a standardized method to measure offensive aggression and defensive behavior in a semi natural setting. The most important behavioral elements performed by the resident and the intruder are demonstrated in the video and illustrated using artistic drawings. The use of the resident intruder paradigm for acute and chronic social stress experiments is explained as well. Finally, some brief tests and criteria are presented to distinguish aggression from its more violent and pathological forms.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Basic Protocols, Psychology, offensive aggression, defensive behavior, aggressive behavior, pathological, violence, social stress, rat, Wistar rat, animal model
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Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Authors: Keen Sung, Sanda Dolcos, Sophie Flor-Henry, Crystal Zhou, Claudia Gasior, Jennifer Argo, Florin Dolcos.
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1. These "friend or foe" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
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Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Authors: Christoph Eisenegger, Michael Naef.
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1 and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior. We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers. The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making
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