Two-thirds of human socializing centers on exchanging information about people: their behaviors, thoughts, and traits. Yet, how we track the social information swarming our everyday lives remains largely unknown. Our research integrates social and cognitive neuroscience to understand what drives our tendency, ability, and need to think about the social world around us. We aim to answer questions such as: How do we juggle multiple social cognitive demands on the fly? How do we learn and consolidate information about the people and groups with whom we interact? Why do the negative and positive experiences with people from our past seem to linger with us, either by haunting us with pain or consuming us with nostalgia?
Are we Social by default?
The overwhelming majority of neuroscience research on social cognition measures neural activity during a task. This makes a lot of sense--it is good to know that the neural activation you observe is tied to a psychological state that, as an experimenter, you have induced. This paradigm, however, has overshadowed a very interesting phenomenon that may reveal a great deal about social cognition. That is, the medial frontoparietal system that activates during social cognition tasks is also consistently active when we are not performing any experimental task at all. This phenomenon is so robust that it even led neuroscientists to name this network the 'default network' since it is consistently active by default, in the absence of other instructions. Why would the same neurocognitive system that activates during experimentally induced social cognition also robustly engage by default? This question has been one of the greatest mysteries in social neuroscience to date. In this line of research, we examine the social psychological functions of activating the medial frontoparietal network by default. So far, we have discovered that default network activity during rest before a social encounter primes us to think socially during the encounter whereas default network activity after a social encounter consolidates newly acquired social information.