Review by Dr. Annett Schirmer and Dr. Trevor Penney identifies brain mechanisms that link temporal and social processing.
Our processing of time and social information have often been studied as separate cognitive and neuronal systems. However, social information is known to influence our sense of time and temporal information to shape social perception.
Dr. Annett Schirmer and Dr. Trevor Penney from the Department of Psychology in NUS, in collaboration with Dr. Warren Meck from Duke University, undertook a review of neuroimaging and behavioural research on the linkages between social and temporal processing.
Temporal coordination of behaviour has often been observed in animals such as flying birds (depicted in the image above). The researchers note that human interactive behaviours are temporally coordinated as well. For example, we tend to synchronize our bodily movements with interaction partners, with this tendency being stronger between friends than strangers.
At the same time, the temporal patterns of our verbal and non-verbal behaviours have social significance. For instance, longer and slower cries of anger seem more arousing than shorter and faster ones.
Given their close ties, how are temporal and social cognition linked in the brain? Current research highlights the basal ganglia, cerebellum, insula, prefrontal and superior temporal cortex in the perception of time. Social processing is supported by different networks that overlap with time perception in the insula and the superior temporal cortex, especially in the right hemisphere.
Accordingly, Schirmer, Meck, and Penney suggest that the insula and superior temporal cortex underpin the link between the temporal and social brain. Moreover, the authors integrate this proposal with the idea that cortical oscillations orchestrated by the striatum have a reciprocal relationship with the temporal structure of social interactions, thus contributing to a socio-temporal network.
This proposal constitutes a first effort at explaining what gives “time a social meaning” and what allows “timing and time perception to be shaped by social meaning in turn”.
The researchers hope that their model of the socio-temporal brain inspires social and timing neuroscience to join forces in understanding the workings of the human mind.
Schirmer, A., Meck, W. H., & Penney, T. B. (2016). The socio-temporal brain: Connecting people in time. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20, 760-772. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2016.08.002