Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Autism, the middle cingulate and reputation management

There was an article on which I had wanted to comment earlier. the study by Chiu et al shows that in autistic individuals the middle cingulate cortex is hypofunctional during the self phase of the iterated Trust game, wherein one has to infer the mind of another, decide whether to trust him or her and accordingly decide what money to give to the trustee and what to keep for oneself.

Recent work using the multiround trust game has identified activations along human
cingulate cortex consistent with agent-specific response patterns generated during interpersonal exchange with another human. These patterns differentiate outcomes following revelation of the partner’s decision (‘‘not self’’ or ‘‘other’’ response) from those following submission of one’s own decision (‘‘self’’ response). Remarkably, the patterns are spatially complementary , and almost no manipulation perturbs them except one: the removal of the interactive partner . Removal of the social partner causes the cingulate response patterns to disappear even though the sensory, motor, and reward elements of the task remain intact. These results from the trust game are consistent with agent specific cingulate responses observed in a range of other experiments. Anterior and posterior cingulate activation occurs in response to the revelation of decisions of others in two-person games like the Ultimatum and Prisoner’s Dilemma games. Furthermore, increased middle cingulate activation is commonly observed in response to one’s own social decisions or emotions.

Chris and Uta Frith do an excellent job of putting these findings in perspective and argue that the autistic is less concerned with reputation management (as it has inability to infer others mind states it does not care hat they think) and suggest a simple experiment that could elucidate the point.

Our speculation is that this process of reputation management is impaired in autistic individuals, because it depends on the ability to read the minds of others. This hypothesis can be tested experimentally. If we are concerned with our reputation then our behavior will be strongly affected by whether or not an audience is present to observe our actions. Consider, for instance, another sharing game known as the dictator game. One player is given $100 and is allowed to share any amount he or she chooses with the other player. In this situation, the rational thing to do would be to give the other player no money at all, because the second player is powerless to respond. Even "dictators" will typically dole out a small proportion of the money, however. When there is an audience for the transaction, dictators give away even more money. Presumably, they do not want to have a reputation for meanness or for acting unfairly. If autistic people are not concerned with their own reputation, then their behaviour should not be affected by the presence of an audience.

I would like to extend their experiment and suggest one for those susceptible to psychosis. I have argued that Autism and Schizophrenia/ psychosis are extreme ends of a continuum and would thus conclude that in the iterated trust game, psychotics/ those susceptible to psychosis would show hyperfunctioning of middle cingulate cortex. I have elsewhere already argued that Psychotics have an enhanced ToM or mind reading ability. I would also hypothesize that psychotics would also show enhanced reputation management and an enhanced donation of money in the trust game when an audience is present as compared to controls or the autistics.

While an experiment is the best to settle such conjectures, it is tempting to see how this adds up and can explain certain symptoms of psychosis/ mania. If one is overly concerned with reputation management one can end up being a spendthrift / show irresponsible financial behavior as one tries to build a hypothetical reputation in the minds of the audience. Taken with the fact that psychosis comes clubbed with a belief in supernatural agents, magical thinking and super agency detection etc, one may not even need an actual audience - a make-believe audience may suffice to make one get overly concerned with reputation management and thus trusting too much the others -even with their money. when reality proves otherwise and people prove to be not worthy of the trust, one may dissociate with reality altogether and become paranoid on the other extreme. We know that the ACC is dysfunctional in schizophrenics, what about the middle cingulate? is it hypoactive during trust games in the self condition? Only a hypothesis, but worth investigating!

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