Contributions of self-report and performance-based individual differences measures of social cognitive ability to large-scale neural network functioning
Adaptive social behavior appears to require flexible interaction between multiple large-scale brain networks, including the executive control network (ECN), the default mode network (DMN), and the salience network (SN), as well as interactions with the perceptual processing systems these networks function to modulate. Highly connected cortical “hub” regions are also thought to facilitate interactions between these networks, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and anterior insula (AI). However, less is presently known about the relationship between these network functions and individual differences in social-cognitive abilities. In the present study, 23 healthy adults (12 female) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing a visually based social judgment task (requiring the evaluation of social dominance in faces). Participants also completed both self-report and performance-based measures of emotional intelligence (EI), as well as measures of personality and facial perception ability. During scanning, social judgment, relative to a control condition involving simple perceptual judgment of facial features in the same stimuli, activated hub regions associated with each of the networks mentioned above (observed clusters included: bilateral DLPFC, DMPFC/ACC, AI, and ventral visual cortex). Interestingly, self-reported and performance-based measures of social-cognitive ability showed opposing associations with these patterns of activation. Specifically, lower self-reported EI and lower openness in personality both independently predicted greater activation within hub regions of the SN, DMN, and ECN (i.e., the DLPFC, DMPFC/ACC, and AI clusters); in contrast, in the same analyses greater scores on performance-based EI measures and on facial perception tasks independently predicted greater activation within hub regions of the SN and ECN (the DLPFC and AI clusters), and also in the ventral visual cortex. These findings suggest that lower confidence in one’s own social-cognitive abilities may promote the allocation of greater cognitive resources to, and improve the performance of, social-cognitive functions.