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Author Notes:

Driss Boussaoud, Aix Marseille Université, INSERM, INS, Institut de Neurosciences des Systèmes, Marseille, France, E-mail: driss.boussaoud@univ-amu.fr; driss.boussaoud@gmail.com

Pascal Huguet, Université Clermont Auvergne, CNRS, LAPSCO, Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et Cognitive, F-63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France. E-mail: pascal.huguet@uca.fr

Pascal Huguet and Driss Boussaoud contributed equally to this article.

We wish to thank Xavier de Giovanni, Alain Demoya, Joël Baurberg for their valuable technical assistance, Mourad Mekaouche, Ivan Balansard, Sébastien Barniaud, Anne Duhoux and Ahmed Zellat for animal care and surgery. We also extend our sincere appreciation to Jean-François Lebas for MRI scanning, Abdelouahed Belmalih, Martine Meunier, David Thura, Amine Bentliba and Elisabetta Monfardini for help in the early phase of the study. We are very grateful to Viktor Jirsa and Andrea Brovelli for their comments on an earlier version of the article and to the anonymous reviewers for their critical and constructive reading of our article.

Conflict of interest. None declared.


Research Funding:

This study was supported by a National Research Agency (ANR) grant ANR-01- NEURO-Oox to DB. MD received a doctoral fellowship from Aix Marseille University under the supervision of D.B. and P.H., from the ‘Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale’ (FDT20130928424), and from Institut des Sciences Biologiques (INSB) of the CNRS, FI was supported by a BDI-PED fellowship from the CNRS.


  • Science & Technology
  • Social Sciences
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Neurosciences
  • Psychology
  • Psychology, Experimental
  • Neurosciences & Neurology
  • associative learning
  • neurophysiology
  • monkey
  • social cognition
  • VIEW

Social and asocial prefrontal cortex neurons: a new look at social facilitation and the social brain


Journal Title:



Volume 12, Number 8


, Pages 1241-1248

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


A fundamental aspect of behavior in many animal species is 'social facilitation', the positive effect of the mere presence of conspecifics on performance. To date, the neuronal counterpart of this ubiquitous phenomenon is unknown. We recorded the activity of single neurons from two prefrontal cortex regions, the dorsolateral part and the anterior cingulate cortex in monkeys as they performed a visuomotor task, either in the presence of a conspecific (Presence condition) or alone. Monkeys performed better in the presence condition than alone (social facilitation), and analyses of outcome-related activity of 342 prefrontal neurons revealed that most of them (86%) were sensitive to the performance context. Two populations of neurons were discovered: 'social neurons', preferentially active under social presence and 'asocial neurons', preferentially active under social isolation. The activity of these neurons correlated positively with performance only in their preferred context (social neurons under social presence; asocial neurons under social isolation), thereby providing a potential neuronal mechanism of social facilitation. More generally, the fact that identical tasks recruited either social or asocial neurons depending on the presence or absence of a conspecific also brings a new look at the social brain hypothesis.

Copyright information:

© The Author(s) (2017). Published by Oxford University Press.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/rdf).
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