Social cognition and neural substrates of face perception: implications for neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders

Behav Brain Res. 2014 Apr 15;263:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.01.010. Epub 2014 Jan 22.


Background: Social cognition is an important aspect of social behavior in humans. Social cognitive deficits are associated with neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. In this study we examine the neural substrates of social cognition and face processing in a group of healthy young adults to examine the neural substrates of social cognition.

Methods: Fifty-seven undergraduates completed a battery of social cognition tasks and were assessed with electroencephalography (EEG) during a face-perception task. A subset (N=22) were administered a face-perception task during functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: Variance in the N170 EEG was predicted by social attribution performance and by a quantitative measure of empathy. Neurally, face processing was more bilateral in females than in males. Variance in fMRI voxel count in the face-sensitive fusiform gyrus was predicted by quantitative measures of social behavior, including the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and the Empathizing Quotient.

Conclusions: When measured as a quantitative trait, social behaviors in typical and pathological populations share common neural pathways. The results highlight the importance of viewing neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders as spectrum phenomena that may be informed by studies of the normal distribution of relevant traits in the general population.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; FMRI; Face processing; Quantitative traits; Social cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Empathy / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult