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Front. Hum. Neurosci., 05 September 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00251

“Doctor” or “darling”? Decoding the communication partner from ECoG of the anterior temporal lobe during non-experimental, real-life social interaction

  • 1Epilepsy Center, University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 2Faculty of Biology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 3Bernstein Center Freiburg, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 4Hermann Paul School of Linguistics, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 5Faculty of Philology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany

Human brain processes underlying real-life social interaction in everyday situations have been difficult to study and have, until now, remained largely unknown. Here, we investigated whether electrocorticography (ECoG) recorded for pre-neurosurgical diagnostics during the daily hospital life of epilepsy patients could provide a way to elucidate the neural correlates of non-experimental social interaction. We identified time periods in which patients were involved in conversations with either their respective life partners (Condition 1; C1) or attending physicians (Condition 2; C2). These two conditions can be expected to differentially involve subfunctions of social interaction which have been associated with activity in the anterior temporal lobe (ATL), including the temporal pole (TP). Therefore, we specifically focused on ECoG recordings from this brain region and investigated spectral power modulations in the alpha (8–12 Hz) and theta (3–5 Hz) frequency ranges, which have been previously assumed to play an important role in the processing of social interaction. We hypothesized that brain activity in this region might be sensitive to differences in the two interaction situations and tested whether these differences can be detected by single-trial decoding. Condition-specific effects in both theta and alpha bands were observed: the left and right TP exclusively showed increased power in C1 compared to C2, whereas more posterior parts of the ATL exhibited similar (C1 > C2) and also contrary (C2 > C1) effects. Single-trial decoding accuracies for classification of these effects were highly above chance. Our findings demonstrate that it is possible to study the neural correlates of human social interaction in non-experimental conditions. Decoding the identity of the communication partner and adjusting the speech output accordingly may be useful in the emerging field of brain-machine interfacing for restoration of expressive speech.

Keywords: natural behavior, temporal pole, theta, alpha, language, speech, BMI, BCI

Citation: Derix J, Iljina O, Schulze-Bonhage A, Aertsen A and Ball T (2012) “Doctor” or “darling”? Decoding the communication partner from ECoG of the anterior temporal lobe during non-experimental, real-life social interaction. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:251. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00251

Received: 03 February 2012; Accepted: 16 August 2012;
Published online: 05 September 2012.

Edited by:

Kai Vogeley, University Hospital Cologne, Germany

Reviewed by:

Eva K. Ritzl, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, USA
Mohamad Koubeissi, George Washington University, USA

Copyright © 2012 Derix, Iljina, Schulze-Bonhage, Aertsen and Ball. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Tonio Ball and Johanna Derix, Epilepsy Center, University Medical Center Freiburg, Engelbergerstr. 21, 79106 Freiburg, Germany. e-mail: tonio.ball@uniklinik-freiburg.de; johanna.derix@uniklinik-freiburg.de

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