Others' Sheer Presence Boosts Brain Activity in the Attention (But Not the Motivation) Network


  • Monfardini Elisabetta
  • Redoute Jerome
  • Hadj-Bouziane Fadila
  • Hynaux Clement
  • Fradin Jacques
  • Huguet Pascal
  • Costes Nicolas
  • Meunier Martine

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The sheer presence of another member of the same species affects performance, sometimes impeding it, sometimes enhancing it. For well-learned tasks, the effect is generally positive. This fundamental form of social influence, known as social facilitation, concerns human as well as nonhuman animals and affects many behaviors from food consumption to cognition. In psychology, this phenomenon has been known for over a century. Yet, its underlying mechanism (motivation or attention) remains debated, its relationship to stress unclear, and its neural substrates unknown. To address these issues, we investigated the behavioral, neuronal, and endocrinological markers of social facilitation in monkeys trained to touch images to obtain rewards. When another animal was present, performance was enhanced, but testing-induced stress (i.e., plasma cortisol elevation) was unchanged, as was metabolic activity in the brain motivation network. Rather, task-related activity in the (right) attention frontoparietal network encompassing the lateral prefrontal cortex, ventral premotor cortex, frontal eye field, and intraparietal sulcus was increased when another individual was present compared with when animals were tested alone. These results establish the very first link between the behavioral enhancement produced by the mere presence of a peer and an increase of metabolic activity in those brain structures underpinning attention.

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