How fruit flies are helping improve social interactions
Instead of shooing them away, one Western University researcher is getting up close and personal with fruit flies to determine why we like our personal space.
Anne Simon, who's an assistant professor in Biology, discovered that varying levels of a chemical found in humans can affect a person's responses to social interactions.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with sending pleasure signals to the brain, often processing what may be deemed as rewards such as an encounter with food or sex – and social interactions.
Simon's team manipulated dopamine through food and genetic testing in fruit flies, which share similar genetic information with humans, to study their responses.
"We are getting more and more understanding as to how our brain makes the decision of getting closer or further from someone," said Simon.
"Each animal has a preferred social bubble, a preferred personal space."
Researchers tested the reaction of flies under extreme dopamine levels. The team discovered that in male flies, too little dopamine results in separation and too much dopamine results in congregation. Female flies wanted to congregate in both scenarios – disregarding the amount of dopamine.
Simon is unsure whether gender plays a role in human social interaction – but she's set to find an answer in the next phase of the research.
She's also set to research the part of the human brain that is affected by dopamine in social situations for people living with schizophrenia and autism — people often struggle to understand social cues.
"Dopamine is going to be important for different functions," she said. "It's going to be helping different parts of the brain communicate and we want to understand which part of the brain is important for social interactions specifically."
As for the flies – it's only the beginning, Simon said. Her social interaction research will soon study mice and other animals.