Jean-Claude Dreher

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline Psychology
Research director at CNRS, Centre de Neurosciences Cognitives

Research project

Cerebral mechanisms underlying social decision making in humans: a theoretical Bayesian perspective


Although social decision making is ubiquitous and central to human society, its underlying neural mechanisms remain poorly understood. There is a need for understanding social decision processes at different levels, bridging the gap between fundamental computational principles and the brain system level. In particular, the fact that complex social decision making relies on probabilistic knowledge about the possible outcomes of choices and on the intentions and cooperativeness of other individuals has been underappreciated.


The current project seeks a better understanding of the psychological and neurobiological basis of social decision-making in humans. We propose to develop a new theoretical computational neuroscience framework of social decision making. We will adopt a combination of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspective, combining Bayesian models and data from multimodal neuroimaging, i.e. intracranial recordings (iEEG) in humans and fMRI, to investigate the neural mechanisms of decision making processes in social context. The general goal is to characterize the computational principles and the neural mechanisms underlying social decision making. Our main hypothesis is that when we are in an interactive social setting, our brain performs Bayesian inferences using probabilistic representations of other individuals’ intentions and cooperativeness. We will use such probabilistic approaches as Bayesian inference and partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDP) to model ways in which we might predict hypothetical action outcomes, the intentions of others and whether the other is cooperative or competitive. This theoretical framework will be tested by computer simulations and validated on data previously obtained using model-based fMRI experiments using Bayesian models of social interactions in healthy adults, which should specify the relationships between the neural mechanisms, behavior and the patterns of brain activation. The locations of neural circuits active when people make decisions in a social setting have been identified. Key components include the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), the dorsomedial (dmPFC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), parts of superior temporal sulcus (STS) including the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) and the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg).


The specific goals of this proposal are to (i) unveil the computational mechanisms underlying the basic neural processes involved in social decision making and integrate them within the more general framework offered by POMDP models that explain how actions are selected in different contexts; (ii) Characterize the neural mechanisms for inferring other's intended action. In addition to discover whether Bayesian inferences can provide the insights regarding the computational algorithms adopted by the brain to infer the intentions of others, the ground-breaking nature of this research is to (i) establish a mechanistic foundation for understanding the neurocomputational mechanisms underlying social choice behaviour; (ii) provide a multilevel understanding of social decisions, from the system-level architecture to the level of neuronal populations. Providing a strong theoretical framework for social decision making should have important comprehensive implications from a scientific, technological, social, psychological and philosophical standpoint. In this way, new questions may be generated in each of these disciplines that would never have been considered without our transdisciplinary approach.





Jean-Claude Dreher is Research director at CNRS, in the Neuroeconomics group, Reward and decision making of the Centre de Neurosciences Cognitives. He holds a Ph.D in Cognitive Neuroscience from Paris VI - Pierre et Marie Curie University.


The goal of his research is to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying decision making,
motivation and reward processing in humans, using concepts from cognitive neuroscience, psychology and psychopathology. 

Selected publications


'Local morphology predicts functional organization of experienced value signals in the human orbitofrontal cortex', with Y. Li, G. Sescousse & C. Amiez, Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 35, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1648-1658.


'Sequential 17β-Estradiol Plus Oral Progesterone Increases the Response of the Reward System in Perimenopausal Women', with J. Thomas et al., Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 50, 2014, pp. 167–180.


'Imbalance in the sensitivity to different types of rewards in pathological gambling', with G. Sescousse, G. Barbalat & P. Domenech, Brain, vol. 136, no. 8, 2013, pp. 2527-2538 (journal cover).


'Cerebral correlates of salient prediction error for different rewards and punishments', with E. Météreau, Cerebral Cortex, vol. 23, no. 2, 2013, pp. 477-487.


'Common and specific neural structures processing primary and secondary rewards: a quantitative voxel-based meta-analysis', with G. Sescousse, X. Caldù & B. Segura, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral reviews, vol. 37, no. 4, 2013, pp. 681-696.


'Common and differential pathophysiological features accompany comparable cognitive impairments in medication-free patients with schizophrenia and in healthy aging subjects', with P. Koch et al., Biological Psychiatry, vol. 1, no. 10, 2012, pp. 890-897 (journal cover).


'Separate valuation subsystems for delay and effort decision costs', with C. Prévost et al., Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 30, no. 42, 2010, pp. 14080-14090.


'The architecture of reward value coding in the orbitofrontal cortex', with G. Sescousse & J. Redouté, Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 30, no. 39, 2010, pp. 13095-13104.


'Decision threshold modulation in the human brain', with P. Domenech, Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 30, no. 43, 2010, pp. 14305-14317.


'The hippocampus codes the uncertainty of cue-outcome associations: an intracranial electrophysiological study in humans', with G. Vanni-Mercier et al., Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 29, no. 16, 2009, pp. 5287-5294.


'Variation in dopamine genes influences responsivity of the human reward system', with P. Kohn et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, vol. 106, no. 2, 2009, pp. 617-622.


'Age-related changes in midbrain dopaminergic regulation of the human reward system', with A. Meyer-Lindenberg, P. Kohn & K.F Berman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, vol. 105 no. 39, pp. 15106-15111, 2008.


'Menstrual cycle phase modulates reward-related neural function in women', with P.J. Schmidt et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, vol. 104, no. 7, 2007, pp. 2465-2470.


'Neural coding of distinct statistical properties of reward information in humans', with P. Kohn & K. Berman, Cerebral Cortex, vol. 16, no. 4, 2006, pp. 561-573.


'Fractionating the neural substrate of cognitive control processes', with K. Berman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, vol. 99, no. 22, 2002, pp. 14595-14600.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Political Science
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Social Studies of Science and Technology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Cultural Studies