CCN meeting | Antonia Hamilton (University College London, UK)

30-01-2020 from 13:00 to 14:00
Henri Dunantlaan 2, room 4.2
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Social signalling as a framework for understanding human non-verbal behaviour

Face to face social interactions between two people involve a rich exchange of verbal and non-verbal signals, but the cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting dynamic interactions remain poorly understood. This talk will use a social signalling framework to make sense of one particularly social behaviour – imitation – which has been described as a ‘social glue’ that causes affiliation and liking.  However, it is not clear what cognitive and brain mechanisms could link imitation to affiliation.  By placing the ‘social glue’ hypothesis within a signalling framework, it is possible to make specific testable predictions for how and why we imitate.  First, to act as social glue, imitation should be produced when another person is watching and can receive the imitation signal.  Second, the person watching should change their evaluation of the imitator.  I will describe a series of studies which test the first of these predictions in detail, using a behavioural and neuroimaging methods with infants, children, typical adults and adults with autism spectrum condition.  The results converge in showing that being watched increases the tendency to imitate, and supports the interpretation of imitation as a signalling behaviour.
               Building on this, the second part of this talk describes the new methods available to explore social signalling behaviour in live interactions.  Using detailed motion capture together with wavelets analysis, we can track and quantify precise patterns of natural mimicry behaviour and other social cues in two person conversation.  Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, we can record neural signatures of imitating and being imitated while freely-moving participants are engaged in naturalistic tasks.  These new approaches can give deeper insights into the details of social behaviour and allow us to define the neural mechanisms of dynamic social interactions.  Applying these methods and interpreting them within the context of a social signalling framework shows how we can turn the idea of ‘second person neuroscience’ into a concrete reality.