Social Cognition

Neural Mechanisms of Androstadienone
2006 Seed Grant
Martha K. McClintock, Ph.D.
The University of Chicago

Androstadienone (AND) is a compound found in male blood and sweat that may act as a chemical signal between individuals. Prior research has shown that women report a more positive mood while being presented with minute amounts of the compound. In addition, AND causes increased attention to social scenes while dampening distraction caused by negative scenes. This project uses fMRI, a brain imaging technique, to explore how the brain responds to presentation of the compound. Dr. McClintock’s lab aims to see whether areas of the brain involved in emotion and attention process social information differently when AND is present. By doing this research, they can build a better picture of how the brain acts during a normal social interaction. Such information will benefit the study of social thought and behavior, and it may provide a new avenue for viewing social deficits.

The critical role of social behavior in human society highlights the need for a complete picture of neural functioning in social situations. In this study, we examine the impact of androstadienone, a putative human pheromone, on social cognition and visual processing. Prior work has demonstrated behavioral and mood responses to the compound even at minute levels below conscious detection. Here, Dr. McClintock uses an fMRI technique to determine how these chemical signals may impact social interaction by modulating neural activity. The modulation of neural circuitry involved in visual attention, social cognition and emotion will provide important information on what is attended or disregarded in customary social behavior. With this knowledge, we will glean a fuller picture of all factors that influence the social brain. Social neuroscience can be more appropriately studied and explained, and psychiatric study can benefit, as the neural basis for range of social deficits (social phobia, autism, etc.) remains unclear to date.

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