Brain coding of social network structure

Michael Peer*, Mordechai Hayman, Bar Tamir, Shahar Arzy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Humans have large social networks, with hundreds of interacting individuals. How does the brain represent the complex connectivity structure of these networks? Here we used social media (Facebook) data to objectively map participants’ real-life social networks. We then used representational similarity analysis (RSA) of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activity patterns to investigate the neural coding of these social networks as participants reflected on each individual. We found coding of social network distances in the default-mode network (medial prefrontal, medial parietal, and lateral parietal cortices). When using partial correlation RSA to control for other factors that can be correlated to social distance (personal affiliation, personality traits. and visual appearance, as subjectively rated by the participants), we found that social network distance information was uniquely coded in the retrosplenial complex, a region involved in spatial processing. In contrast, information on individuals’ personal affiliation to the participants and personality traits was found in the medial parietal and prefrontal cortices, respectively. These findings demonstrate a cortical division between representations of non-self-referenced (allocentric) social network structure, self-referenced (egocentric) social distance, and trait-based social knowledge.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4897-4909
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number22
StatePublished - 2 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israeli Science Foundation (Grant No. 1306/18). M.P. was supported by a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship from the United States–Israel Educational Foundation, a Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program fellowship, and the Eva, Luis, and Sergio Lamas Scholarship Fund. We thank Assaf Yohalashet, Lee Ashkenazi, Dr. Yuval Porat, and Prof. Leon Deouell from the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences neuroimaging unit; Rachel Fried, Catherine Nadar, Dr. Iva Brunec, Dr. Nicholas Diamond, Dr. Shachar Maidenbaum, Dr. Yoed Kenett, Dr. Zvi N Roth, and Prof. Russell Epstein (University of Pennsylvania) and Prof. Daniel L. Schacter (Harvard University) for helpful suggestions and discussions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 the authors


  • Default-mode network
  • FMRI
  • Facebook
  • Social distance
  • Social media
  • Social networks
  • fMRI
  • social networks
  • default-mode network
  • social media
  • social distance


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