Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Document Type

Thesis (Master's)

Department or Program

Psychological and Brain Sciences

First Advisor

Meghan L. Meyer


Sociality is a defining feature of the human experience: we rely on others to ensure survival and cooperate in complex social networks to thrive. Are there brain mechanisms that help ensure we quickly learn about our social world to optimally navigate it? We tested whether portions of the brain’s default network engage “by default” to quickly prioritize social learning during the memory consolidation process. To test this possibility, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while viewing scenes from the documentary film, Samsara. This film shows footage of real people and places from around the world. We normed the footage to select scenes that differed along the dimension of sociality, while matched on valence, arousal, interestingness, and familiarity. During fMRI, participants watched the “social” and “non-social” scenes, completed a rest scan, and a surprise recognition memory test. Participants showed superior social (vs. non-social) memory performance and the social memory advantage was associated with neural pattern reinstatement during rest in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), a key node of the default network. Moreover, it was during early rest that DMPFC social pattern reinstatement was greatest and predicted subsequent social memory performance most strongly, consistent with the “prioritization” account. Results simultaneously update 1) theories of memory consolidation, which have not addressed how social information may be prioritized in the learning process and 2) understanding of default network function, which remains to be fully characterized. More broadly, the results underscore the inherent human drive to understand our vastly social world.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 14, 2025