Deciphering the neural mechanisms of social behavior has propelled the growth of social neuroscience. The exact computations of the social brain, however, remain elusive. Here we investigated how the human brain tracks ongoing changes in social relationships using functional neuroimaging. Participants were lead characters in a role-playing game in which they were to find a new home and a job through interactions with virtual cartoon characters. We found that a two-dimensional geometric model of social relationships, a "social space" framed by power and affiliation, predicted hippocampal activity. Moreover, participants who reported better social skills showed stronger covariance between hippocampal activity and "movement" through "social space." The results suggest that the hippocampus is crucial for social cognition, and imply that beyond framing physical locations, the hippocampus computes a more general, inclusive, abstract, and multidimensional cognitive map consistent with its role in episodic memory.
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