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Understanding social behaviour: Macaque behaviour in coordination and cooperation games and the encoding of inequity in striatum

Understanding social behaviour: Macaque behaviour in coordination and cooperation games and the encoding of inequity in striatum
Charlotte Ramona van Coeverden


Department of Physiology Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1TP, UNITED KINGDOM.


Social behaviours have been widely studied in behavioural economics and psychology. However, the origins of these behaviours in the brain are poorly understood. In this dissertation I will discuss two main avenues of study which constituted separate projects during my PhD candidacy. The first section contains experiments in which I collaborated with Dr Raymundo Báez-Mendoza on the topic of inequity. The second part includes a study on coordination and cooperation behaviour in macaques.

Inequity is a concept ubiquitous in daily life. It is the difference between one’s own reward and that of another. There have been several studies that have suggested inequity affects brain activity. However, few studies have touched upon how this parameter is incorporated in neuronal activity. In the experiments that will be described here, monkeys (Macaca mulatta) performed actions to obtain rewards for both themselves and another. The level of inequity in these rewards was manipulated by varying the magnitude of own and other’s rewards. We then proceeded to study neuronal activity by means of single neuron recordings in the striatum of two macaques. We found that inequity modulated task related activity in about 32% of recorded striatal neurons. In addition to this study on inequity we also recorded some sessions in which one of the animals made choices with varying rewards for self and other. From these results, I attempted to characterise behaviour with regards to own reward and inequity in choice situations.

Inequity has been considered a contributing factor in explaining cooperation behaviour. Coordination and cooperation are important and frequently observed behaviours. To study coordination and cooperation, I designed an experiment in which the combination of two monkeys’ choices determined the rewards for both animals. In this dissertation I attempt to address how the animals perform combined choices (playing together vs. alone) as well as the nature of their behaviour (e.g. pro-social vs. self-interested). The aim of this work was to characterise what type of information the animals use to solve these tasks. This is vital if one is to study these concepts in the brain using macaques as a model. In summary, this work contributes to a better understanding of social behaviour and provides an example of how this social behaviour is computed in the brain.