Research Topic

Reverse correlating mental representations of the social brain

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In order to navigate the world of social interactions, the social brain must perform the complex task of processing information sampled from the external environment coupled with top-down knowledge (i.e., mental representations) about social agents (e.g., individuals and groups) and social signals (e.g., ...

In order to navigate the world of social interactions, the social brain must perform the complex task of processing information sampled from the external environment coupled with top-down knowledge (i.e., mental representations) about social agents (e.g., individuals and groups) and social signals (e.g., facial expressions). Created from individual experiences interacting with the environment, mental representations provide predictive information, thereby guiding thought and action. Therefore, it is imperative to understand how mental representations shape social cognition and behaviour. To do so, one would ideally wish to have a window into the minds of others to “see the world through their eyes.” Yet, remarkably few tools can accurately capture the true complexities of mental representations, leaving large areas of knowledge unchartered. In bridging these gaps, a powerful psychophysical method – reverse correlation – has recently been used to reconstruct mental representations of stereotypes about out-group members (Dotsch et al., 2008) and culture-specific facial expressions (Jack et al., 2011, 2012) in an objective, data-driven manner. As reverse correlation debuts outside of the low-level cognitive domain, it is imperative to explore the potential of the technique in addressing key questions. Importantly, studies using data-driven reverse correlation methods to investigate high-level social cognition have proliferated in the last four years (e.g., Jack et al., 2011, 2012, Schyns et al., 2007; Smith et al., 2005; Dotsch & Todorov, 2011; Dotsch, Wigboldus & van Knippenberg, 2011; Imhoff, Dotsch, Bianchi, Wigboldus & Banse, 2011; Karremans, Dotsch, & Corneille, 2011; Oosterhof & Todorov, 2008; Said & Todorov, 2011).
As a result, this research topic will focus on the application of reverse correlation to visually depict the mental representations of social signals. To illustrate the potential of the technique, we welcome both theoretical, practical as well as methodological contributions demonstrating the application of reverse correlation to reveal mental representations from behavioral or brain data.
Together, by presenting a diverse collection of applications of the reverse correlation technique in social psychology, we hope that this research topic will demonstrate the power and flexibility of the technique to address key questions in mentally representing the social world, thereby highlighting new research opportunities and guiding future directions in the field.


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