A new paradigm for investigating real-world social behavior and its neural underpinnings.

25 Jul 2022
Alreja A, Ward MJ, Ma Q, Russ BE, Bickel S, Van Wouwe NC, González-Martínez JA, Neimat JS, Abel TJ, Bagić A, Parker LS, Richardson RM, Schroeder CE, Morency LP, Ghuman AS

Eye tracking and other behavioral measurements collected from patient-participants in their hospital rooms afford a unique opportunity to study natural behavior for basic and clinical translational research. We describe an immersive social and behavioral paradigm implemented in patients undergoing evaluation for surgical treatment of epilepsy, with electrodes implanted in the brain to determine the source of their seizures. Our studies entail collecting eye tracking with other behavioral and psychophysiological measurements from patient-participants during unscripted behavior, including social interactions with clinical staff, friends, and family in the hospital room. This approach affords a unique opportunity to study the neurobiology of natural social behavior, though it requires carefully addressing distinct logistical, technical, and ethical challenges. Collecting neurophysiological data synchronized to behavioral and psychophysiological measures helps us to study the relationship between behavior and physiology. Combining across these rich data sources while participants eat, read, converse with friends and family, etc., enables clinical-translational research aimed at understanding the participants' disorders and clinician-patient interactions, as well as basic research into natural, real-world behavior. We discuss data acquisition, quality control, annotation, and analysis pipelines that are required for our studies. We also discuss the clinical, logistical, and ethical and privacy considerations critical to working in the hospital setting.