Social Brain Lab
Perceiving what others feel and want and reacting accordingly is both complex and important. The mission of the Social Brain Lab – the joint effort of the Gazzola and Keysers group – is to understand the neural bases of these processes.
Understanding these processes is complex, because the brains of other living humans are the most complex object in the universe, and our ability to so intuitively feel what goes on in these other brains is an amazing and mysterious feat, that requires what so far no artificial system can do: transform the complex observable behaviours of others into hypotheses of what these people feel inside of them, hidden from view. Doing so requires an intricate neural mapping between our senses that let us hear, see and feel what other do and our own emotional, sensory and motor systems that endow us with priviledged first-person representations of what humans can feel and do. Transforming that perception into appropriate social reactions further requires complex mappings of these perceptions onto our motor and emotional system. Cracking the code of this complex mapping is what the social brain lab is all about. This requires integrating the full gamut of neuroscience tools. We need to image brain circuits in humans to understand what brain regions take part in these processes and how they interact. We need to study brain activity at neural resolution in animals to understand the cell-types and microcircuitry involved. We need to modify brain activity in humans to test whether particular brain regions contribute to perception and behavior, and we need to do the same in animals to modify activity in particular cell-types to understand the molecular basis of these processes.
You can get an impression for the labs spirit in this short movies:
In addition, the lab explores why some people seem to show very reduced empathy, for instance in patient groups that suffer from impairments in social cognition, including autism and psychopathy. You can get an impression for that work from the following episode with Morgan Freeman:
Read more about our research in Christian Keysers’s book The Empathic Brain.
Or what Christian Keysers present the lab at the Marie Curie Action’s 20th Anniversary in Brussels
Social Brain Lab
Understanding these processes is important because our ability to work with others is at the very core of what makes us human. All of what makes us proud to be humans – from language to knowledge, from the arts to bringing a man to the moon – would be impossible without our amazing ability to collaborate so closely with one another, to learn from one another, and take care of one another. Understanding what makes us so exquisitely social is thus a journey to the very heart of our humanity – to who we really are. Debilitating dysfunctions of social interactions are encountered in 3% of the population – in autism, conduct disorder or psychopathy – with severe consequences both for the patients and those close to them. Currently, we lack effective therapies to normalise their social functioning. Understanding normal social functions and their variations at a detailed, multilayer neural level is a long-haul effort that will take decades, but is the only route to inspire new and principled treatments and a powerful example of the ambitious fundamental research that the NIN is so uniquely poised to address.
Because of the complexity of the task at hand, the groups of Gazzola and Keysers work together in a close, collaborative and interactive way, sharing equipment, people and ideas, to create a unique environment, the Social Brain Lab, to jointly create the critical mass of social neuroscience expertise to perform a truly multilevel effort to decipher our social brain.
The social brain lab is equipped to integrate research in humans and rodents. For this purpose it has the following equipment.
- 3T philips scanner at the Spinoza Center (10m away)
- 7T philips scanner at the Spinoza Center (10m away)
- 130Ch ActiChamp EEG system
- Magstim Rapid TMS system with neuronavigation
- 8Ch Soterix tDCS system
- housing facilities for mice and rats
- 64Ch Neuralynx Electrophysiology system for freely moving rodents with silicon probes or tetrodes
- Neurolabware two-photon laser scanning microscope with Phenosys VR system
- DM2 fascilities for viral transfections
- Ethovision system for behavioral analysis
- 40 Core, 2TB RAM shared ram supercomputer
- 2019 Carrillo M, Han Y, Migliorati F, Liu M, Gazzola V, Keysers C (2019). Emotional Mirror Neurons in the Rat’s Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Current Biology.[see online] see podcast below
2018 Gallo S, Paracampo R, Müller-Pinzler L, Severo MC, Blömer L, Fernandes-Henriques C, Henschel A, Lammes BK, Maskaljunas T, Suttrup J, Avenanti A, Keysers C, Gazzola V. The causal role of the somatosensory cortex in prosocial behaviour. eLife7 e32740
2016 Zaki J, Wager TD*, Singer T*, Keysers C*, Gazzola, V*. The Anatomy of Suffering: Understanding the relationship between nociceptive and empathic pain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences20, 249-259.
2015 Cerliani L, Mennes M, Thomas RM, Di Martino A, Thioux M & Keysers C. Increased functional connectivity between subcortical and cortical resting-state networks in autism spectrum disorder. JAMA Psychiatry72, 767-777.
2014 Keysers C & Gazzola V. Dissociating the ability and propensity for empathy. Trends Cogn. Sci.18, 163-166
2014 Di Martino A, Yan CG, Li Q, Denio E, Castellanos FX, Alaerts K, Anderson JS, Assaf M, Bookheimer SY, Dapretto M, Deen B, Delmonte S, Dinstein I, Ertl-Wagner B, Fair DA, Gallagher L, Kennedy DP, Keown CL, Keysers C, Lainhart JE, Lord C, Luna B, Menon V, Minshew NJ, Monk CS, Mueller S, Muller RA, Nebel MB, Nigg JT, O’Hearn K, Pelphrey KA, Peltier SJ, Rudie JD, Sunaert S, Thioux M, Tyszka JM, Uddin LQ, Verhoeven JS, Wenderoth N, Wiggins JL, Mostofsky SH & Milham MP. The autism brain imaging data exchange: towards a large-scale evaluation of the intrinsic brain architecture in autism. Mol. Psychiatr.19, 659-667
2013 Meffert H, Gazzola V, den Boer JA, Bartels AAJ & Keysers C. Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Brain136, 2550-2562
2012 Hasson U, Ghazanfar AA, Galantucci B, Garrod S & Keysers C. Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world. Trends Cogn. Sci.16, 114-121
2012 Gazzola V, Spezio ML, Etzel JA, Castelli F, Adolphs R & Keysers C. Primary somatosensory cortex discriminates affective significance in social touch. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.109, E1657-E1666
2012 Cerliani L, Thomas RM, Jbabdi S, Siero JCW, Nanetti L, Crippa A, Gazzola V, D’Arceuil H & Keysers C. Probabilistic tractography recovers a rostrocaudal trajectory of connectivity variability in the human insular cortex. Hum. Brain Mapp.33, 2005-2034
2011 Atsak P, Orre M, Bakker P, Cerliani L, Roozendaal B, Gazzola V, Moita M & Keysers C. Experience Modulates Vicarious Freezing in Rats: A Model for Empathy. PLoS One6
2011 Arnstein D, Cui F, Keysers C, Maurits NM & Gazzola V. mu-Suppression during Action Observation and Execution Correlates with BOLD in Dorsal Premotor, Inferior Parietal, and SI Cortices. J. Neurosci.31, 14243-14249
2010 Schippers MB, Roebroeck A, Renken R, Nanetti L & Keysers C. Mapping the information flow from one brain to another during gestural communication. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.107, 9388-9393
2010 Keysers C, Kaas JH & Gazzola V. Somatosensation in social perception. Nat. Rev. Neurosci.11, 417-428
2009 Keysers C & Gazzola V. Expanding the mirror: vicarious activity for actions, emotions, and sensations. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol.19, 666-671
2009 Keysers C. Mirror neurons. Curr. Biol.19, R971-R973
2009 Gazzola V & Keysers C. The Observation and Execution of Actions Share Motor and Somatosensory Voxels in all Tested Subjects: Single-Subject Analyses of Unsmoothed fMRI Data. Cereb. Cortex19, 1239-1255
2009 Bastiaansen J, Thioux M & Keysers C. Evidence for mirror systems in emotions. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B-Biol. Sci.364, 2391-2404
2007 Jabbi M, Swart M & Keysers C. Empathy for positive and negative emotions in the gustatory cortex. Neuroimage34, 1744-1753
2007 Gazzola V, van der Worp H, Mulder T, Wicker B, Rizzolatti G & Keysers C. Aplasics born without hands mirror the goal of hand actions with their feet. Curr. Biol.17, 1235-1240
2007 Gazzola V, Rizzolatti G, Wicker B & Keysers C. The anthropomorphic brain: The mirror neuron system responds to human and robotic actions. Neuroimage35, 1674-1684
2006 Keysers C & Gazzola V Towards a unifying neural theory of social cognition. Understanding Emotions379-401
2006 Gazzola V, Aziz-Zadeh L & Keysers C. Empathy and the somatotopic auditory mirror system in humans. Curr. Biol.16, 1824-1829
2004 Keysers C, Wicker B, Gazzola V, Anton JL, Fogassi L & Gallese V. A touching sight: SII/PV activation during the observation and experience of touch. Neuron42, 335-346
2004 Keysers C & Perrett DI. Demystifying social cognition: a Hebbian perspective. Trends Cogn. Sci.8, 501-507
2004 Gallese V, Keysers C & Rizzolatti G. A unifying view of the basis of social cognition. Trends Cogn. Sci.8, 396-403
2003 Wicker B, Keysers C, Plailly J, Royet JP, Gallese V & Rizzolatti G. Both of us disgusted in My Insula: The common neural basis of seeing and feeling disgust. Neuron40, 655-664
2002 Kohler E, Keysers C, Umilta MA, Fogassi L, Gallese V & Rizzolatti G. Hearing sounds, understanding actions: Action representation in mirror neurons. Science297, 846-848
2001 Umilta MA, Kohler E, Gallese V, Fogassi L, Fadiga L, Keysers C & Rizzolatti G. I know what you are doing: A neurophysiological study. Neuron31, 155-165
The Keysers lab studies fundamental issues in social neuroscience. To do so, we are entirely dependent on public funding. We are enormously thankful to the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) and the European Commission for being dedicated patrons of such frontier science. Without the Talent Scheme of NWO that has supported our work through VENI, VIDI and VICI grants, and without the European Commission that has supported us through the ERC and several Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, we would have been unable to tackle the mysteries of our social nature. In addition, the Dutch Government has helped us deeply through the National Initiative for Brain and Cognition.