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Neural computations underlying contextual processing in humans.

  • Zheng, Jie
  • Skelin, Ivan
  • Lin, Jack J
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
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Context shapes our perception of facial expressions during everyday social interactions. We interpret a person's face in a hostile situation negatively and judge the same face under pleasant circumstances positively. Critical to our adaptive fitness, context provides situation-specific framing to resolve ambiguity and guide our interpersonal behavior. This context-specific modulation of facial expression is thought to engage the amygdala, hippocampus, and orbitofrontal cortex; however, the underlying neural computations remain unknown. Here we use human intracranial electroencephalograms (EEGs) directly recorded from these regions and report bidirectional theta-gamma interactions within the amygdala-hippocampal network, facilitating contextual processing. Contextual information is subsequently represented in the orbitofrontal cortex, where a theta phase shift binds context and face associations within theta cycles, endowing faces with contextual meanings at behavioral timescales. Our results identify theta phase shifts as mediating associations between context and face processing, supporting flexible social behavior.

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