PSY362H5 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Spindle Neuron, Insular Cortex, Mirror Neuron

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26 Sep 2017
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Lecture 7: Social Intelligence
Social Behaviour in Dolphins
1) Bottlenose dolphins live in fluid social groups.
2) In the wild, group composition and structure are based largely on age, sex, reproductive
condition, family relationships, and association histories.
3) Social hierarchies exist within bottlenose dolphin groups
o Determines mating and food distribution
- Helping Behaviour in Dolphins
o Pod form a life wrap to lift the dolphins to the surface to breathe
One of the first evidence of pro-social helping in dolphins
Prompted some to study what they do within their social groups when one is in
distress
o Controlled study
Dolphin vocalizing in distress assume a vertical position, sink to the bottom
Other dolphins in pod
- Engage in multiple pushing and linking behaviours that attempt to carry
it to the surface for it to breathe
o Graph: Ventral underside largest, makes most sense - is most commonly pushed
o Epimeletic (caregiving) behavior
Attempt to push distressed dolphin to surface
Groups of dolphins will coordinate their efforts to alleviate distress
Characterized as caregiving behaviour
Bystander effect: other dolphins within group will stay around distressed dolphin
- Not actively helping
- As if they are being comforting to the dolphin in distress
Graph: Begin to vocalizing at higher and higher frequency pushing increases
triggers pro-social behaviours
- Von Economo neurons (spindle neurons)
o Proposed to subserve certain aspects of higher cognitive abilities in humans such as
social and emotional cognition, awareness, and intuition
o VENs are large, bipolar projection neurons located in layer V of the anterior cingulate
cortex (ACC) and frontoinsular cortex (FI)
o Now identified in dolphins, whales and elephants
o Originally thought as what made humans unique - empathy, mourning and grieving
Certain brain areas that light up in fMRI studies, spinal neurons exclusively
exists
o Found in other large brain animals have these neurons as well
o Spindle neurons in ACC and Insular Cortex
Spindle = have an elongated, bipolar shape
- Covey information over long distances
- Transmits fast signals between the anterior insula and ACC
Because neurons are found in empathy-related regions, we assume they are
involved in those emotions
- Difficult to prove
- Only evidence - found in brain regions and in animals that engage in
complex behaviours
- But we don't know the precise role of spindle neurons
Social awareness = mirror self-recognition test, all of them are positive
Empathy = caregiving (dolphins), comforting (elephants)
Mourning = when a pod/pack member dies
o What role do they play?
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Social awareness, empathy
Mourning
- Looked at the interaction of elephants and different objects
- Ivory , elephant, skull and wood
- Measured frequency/time of interaction
o Interact a lot with ivory, less with skull, none with wood
o Spending more time with ivory & skull = sign of mourning or
grief
- Follow up
o Different types of skulls
o Spent more time with elephant skull than buffalo and rhino
- Weren't able to show - matriarch, non-matriarch
o Matriarch = oldest females within herd, most respected
o Time of interaction were similar
- Preliminary evidence that they do have a capacity for mourning and grief
- Anecdotes of dolphins
o Mother dolphin carrying baby that has died out to sea
o Interpreted as mourning ritual, mother was not letting go of
infant
o Comforting Behaviour in Asian Elephants
Observed different packs of elephants
Loud auditory signal induce distress in some
First elephant to vocalize = most distressed, looked at how other elephants would
react
Following loud startle other elephants flocked to the one in distress
- Vocalize with the elephant, touch elephants (usually using trunk =
patting on back)
Distress quickly goes away
- Not clear if it’s because the sound was startling or due to the comforting
behaviour of the other elephants
Emotional contagion
- Sharing of emotions
- Distress and stress can become contagious
- If one animal is stress elicit a chain reaction in other animals
especially those in the same herd
- Not clear if initially flocking to the elephant was because they were also
in distress
o Attempt to alleviate stress in that elephant or alleviate their own
distress?
- Emotional Contagion
o Tendency for two animals to converge emotionally
o Can be done through mimicry and synchronization of one's expressions, vocalizations,
postures and movements
o Ex. Crying babies in nursey snowball to other babies; yawning
o Considered a primitive and basic form of empathy - because empathy is the sharing of
emotional states
o Rapid-Mimicry in Dogs
2 dogs together + mimicry of their states
Dog A: play bow + Dog B: mimics A
- Subsequent play time is longer
- Places the animals in sync
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Without mimicry play interaction is less
Mimicry + emotional contagion are always stronger and higher in
friends/acquaintances
- In strangers and unfamiliar, behaviours are much less
More prominent between dog and owner than dog and unfamiliar stranger
- Makes sense if yawning is considered a form of empathy
Not related to stress of physiological parameters
- Imitation
o Relates back to mirror neurons
o Grasping reflexes in chimps, connected to MRI
o Watching a research opening peanut elicit activation in brain areas in monkey as if it
is opening the peanut itself
o Activates same network and neurons as it would if you were carrying out that behaviour
o Elicits representation in the brain
Ex. watching someone in pain
o Mirror neurons distinguish between grasping a food pellet to eat it and grasping a
nonfood item to place it in a bowl, as shown by the histograms of firing rate versus time
below each drawing
Similar patterns, not as strong, as if you were carrying out the action
o Neurons that fire when
An animal acts
Observes another animal performing the same action
o Provide basis for empathy/emotional contagion
These neurons are activated by watching someone experience disgust, pain,
happiness
- Bonding
o Oxytocin Loop of Bonding
Attachment behaviour (ex. nursing ) increases oxytocin in mom more
nurturing behaviour increase oxytocin in pup increase attachment
Interspecies relationship
Does the behaviour of human towards dog, increase oxytocin in dog?
o Gaze mediated bonding between humans and dogs
Owners sits still in a room
Dog enters, observe what they would do
Whether or not dog looks into owners eyes (gaze)
- Dogs that gaze more, increase oxytocin more in owners
Gazing behaviour from dogs increased oxytocin, which increased owners
affiliation and increased oxytocin in dogs
Sex difference
- Oxytocin levels are much higher in females, does not change much in
male dogs
- Could be evolutionary due to oxytocin's role in motherly bonding
Empathy
- Russian nesting doll model of empathy
o State-matching: emotional contagion
o Sympathetic concern: consolation
o Perspective-taking: targeted helping
o Empathy is a collection of behaviours that is inter-related
o State: Empathy is based on small behaviours
o Sympathetic
o Perspective - more complex behaviours
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Document Summary

As if they are being comforting to the dolphin in distress: graph: begin to vocalizing at higher and higher frequency pushing increases. Transmits fast signals between the anterior insula and acc: because neurons are found in empathy-related regions, we assume they are involved in those emotions. Only evidence - found in brain regions and in animals that engage in complex behaviours. Looked at the interaction of elephants and different objects. Interact a lot with ivory, less with skull, none with wood: spending more time with ivory & skull = sign of mourning or grief. Follow up: different types of skulls, spent more time with elephant skull than buffalo and rhino. Weren"t able to show - matriarch, non-matriarch: matriarch = oldest females within herd, most respected, time of interaction were similar. Preliminary evidence that they do have a capacity for mourning and grief. Anecdotes of dolphins: mother dolphin carrying baby that has died out to sea.

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