The Effect of Social Interaction on the Neural Correlates of Language Processing and Mentalizing
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Recent behavioral and neuroscience evidence suggests that studying the social brain in detached and offline contexts (e.g., listening to prerecorded stories about characters) may not capture real-world social processes. Few studies, however, have directly compared neural activation during live interaction to conventional recorded paradigms. The current study used a novel fMRI paradigm to investigate whether real-time social interaction modulates the neural correlates of language processing and mentalizing. Regions associated with social engagement (i.e., dorsal medial prefrontal cortex) were more active during live interaction. Processing live versus recorded language increased activation in regions associated with narrative processing and mentalizing (i.e., temporal parietal junction). Regions associated with intentionality understanding (i.e., posterior superior temporal sulcus) were more active when mentalizing about a live partner. These results have implications for quantifying and understanding the neural correlates of real-world social behavior in typical adults, in developmental populations, and in individuals with social disabilities such as autism.