The Robotics Institute

RI | Seminar | Nov 2 2007

Robotics Institute Seminar, Nov 2, 2007
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biography | Speaker Appointments

Perceiving the Actions and Intentions of Others: Brain Mechanisms for Social Perception



Kevin Pelphrey

Department of Psychology
Carnegie Mellon University


Time and Place


Mauldin Auditorium (NSH 1305 )

Talk 3:30 pm




Humans are intensely social beings that have evolved and develop within highly social environments in which each individual is dependent upon others. Rapid assimilation of information about other individuals is critical. We must be able to recognize specific individuals and use the history of our past interactions to guide our future behavior. We constantly engage in social perception – using cues from facial expressions, gaze shifts, body movements, and language to infer the intentions of others and plan our own actions accordingly. When approached by another individual, interpreting his or her intentions assumes even greater urgency as the distance between us diminishes. This is particularly so if the individual is a stranger, where body size, facial expressions, gestures and gait may differentiate between a potential threat and a potential ally.

               Given the importance of our social interactions, it is plausible that specialized brain systems may have evolved that are critical for these different aspects of social cognition. Several candidate regions thought to comprise the social brain have been identified, including the fusiform gyrus for face perception, the posterior superior temporal sulcus for the perception of biological motion and the visual analysis of others’ intentions, and the amygdala and ventral frontal regions for the perception of emotional expression.

               Members of my laboratory have been investigating the properties of these brain regions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in typically developing adults and children as well as in children and adults with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by severe dysfunction in aspects of social perception. In this talk, I will describe these studies in three main parts: First, I will describe our efforts using fMRI to identify the basic brain mechanisms for social perception in typically developing adults. Second, I will discuss our studies of the neural basis of social perception deficits in adults with autism. Finally, I will describe our recent efforts to chart the typical and atypical development of brain mechanisms for social perception in children with and without autism.



Speaker Biography




Speaker Appointments


For appointments, please contact Jessica Hodgins (

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.