|dc.description.abstract||Social interaction is one of humanity's defining features. Through it, we develop ideas, express emotions, and form relationships. In this thesis, we explore the topic of social cognition by building biologically-plausible computational models of learning and decision making. Our goal is to develop mechanistic explanations for how the brain performs a variety of social tasks, to test those theories by simulating neural networks, and to validate our models by comparing to human and animal data.
We begin by introducing social cognition from functional and anatomical perspectives, then present the Neural Engineering Framework, which we use throughout the thesis to specify functional brain models. Over the course of four chapters, we investigate many aspects of social cognition using these models. We begin by studying fear conditioning using an anatomically accurate model of the amygdala. We validate this model by comparing the response properties of our simulated neurons with real amygdala neurons, showing that simulated behavior is consistent with animal data, and exploring how simulated fear generalization relates to normal and anxious humans. Next, we show that biologically-detailed networks may realize cognitive operations that are essential for social cognition. We validate this approach by constructing a working memory network from multi-compartment cells and conductance-based synapses, then show that its mnemonic performance is comparable to animals performing a delayed match-to-sample task. In the next chapter, we study decision making and the tradeoffs between speed and accuracy: our network gathers information from the environment and tracks the value of choice alternatives, making a decision once certain criteria are met. We apply this model to a two-choice decision task, fit model parameters to recreate the behavior of individual humans, and reproduce the speed-accuracy tradeoff evident in the human population. Finally, we combine our networks for learning, working memory, and decision making into a cognitive agent that uses reinforcement learning to play a simple social game. We compare this model with two other cognitive architectures and with human data from an experiment we ran, and show that our three cognitive agents recreate important patterns in the human data, especially those related to social value orientation and cooperative behavior. Our concluding chapter summarizes our contributions to the field of social cognition and proposes directions for further research.
The main contribution of this thesis is the demonstration that a diverse set of social cognitive abilities may be explained, simulated, and validated using a functionally-descriptive, biologically-plausible theoretical framework. Our models lay a foundation for studying increasingly-sophisticated forms of social cognition in future work.||en