The Social Brain: How We Learn and Change Norms

To maintain the normal functioning of a society, individuals must be able to learn to adapt to norms. More importantly, norms are not static construls but instead, can be changed and updated if individuals of a society act on them. In this talk, Dr. Gu will present her recent work using computational models of preference and learning, in conjunction with fMRI and lesion approaches, to investigate how humans learn to adapt to norms and also change norms, and how these processes can be disturbed in psychiatric disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD). Converging evidence points to a critical involvement of the insular cortex in norm adaption, a mechanism that is broken down in patients with BPD. When it comes to changing norms, mesolimbic dopamine regions (e.g. ventral striatum) play an important role in the mental simulation of future utilities (i.e. forward planning). Taken together, these results reveal important computational mechanisms deployed by the brain to learn and change social norms.