Psych 137A Final

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Direct relationships

Relationships that you yourself are directly involved in (e.g., Who is familiar to you, who you are friends with, who your boss is)

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Indirect relationships

Patterns of relationships between third parties (e.g., Who is a friend-of-a-friend, who is friends with someone whom you dislike)

  • have to keep track of other people's relationships

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Humans crave social connection (examples)

  • human participants that had to be alone with their own thoughts for 15 min which was apparently so aversive it drove many to self-administer a shock they earlier said they would pay to avoid

  • Cast Away: makes a fake being out of his volleyball to avoid loneliness

  • When we feel lonely — like we lack social connections — we engage in more anthropomorphism and more readily see human-like faces in inanimate objects

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The Function of Loneliness

  • Social relationships are important for survival and reproductive fitness (as we moved from nocturnal to diurnal)

  • Feelings of loneliness and social exclusion were once thought to comprise a chronic, pathological state without any redeeming characteristics --- now understood to serve useful functions: motivates individuals to establish, repair and restore socialties. --- Just like other feeling states (e.g., hunger, pain) motivate us to satisfy other basic needs, feelings of social isolation compel us to seek out and maintain social ties.

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Social "Pain": Does rejection literally "hurt"? (evidence)

  • often describe social rejection and separation as painful (e.g., "hurt feelings")

  • Social pain may have "piggy-backed" onto mechanisms for representing and regulating physical pain; social pain may rely on some of the same neurobiological substrates that underlie experiences of physical pain

  1. Overlapping neural substrates --- Experiencing social and physical pain both recruit the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula (AI)

  2. Interactions between social and physical pain --- Tylenol and opioids reduce social pain --- Social support reduces physical pain (ex. showing a picture of a loved one or holding their hand)

  3. Individual differences --- People who are sensitive to physical pain are also sensitive to social exclusion

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evidence for rejection literally hurting: rejection game experiment

using a game that simulates social rejection (cyberball), found that

  • Experiencing social and physical pain elicit overlapping fMRI responses in the dACC and Anterior Insula (AI)

  • Individual differences in sensitivity to physical and social pain are related

  • Opioids modulate separation distress

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  • A virtual ball-toss game used to study social exclusion and rejection

  • 3 players (the participant + 2 others)

  • A simple but powerful way to induce feelings of social rejection in the lab (and within the confines of the MRI scanner)

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is solitary confinement inhumane?

The neurological evidence implies that the substantial harm caused by social isolation may indeed cause the same level of pain (akin to torture)

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Close others as a "safety signal": Behavioral evidence (methods)

Participants came into the lab with long-term romantic partners

  • First, researchers established participants' pain thresholds and acquired photographs of their partners

  • Second, participants were exposed to various conditions while experiencing pain (via thermal stimulation) and rating pain unpleasantness on a numerical scale

--- Hand or object holding conditions: Partner's hand, stranger's hand or object (squeeze ball) --- Photograph conditions: Partner's face, stranger's face or object (empty chair)

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Close others as a "safety signal": Behavioral evidence (results)

  • Both the presence of a social support figure and a photograph of such an individual attenuates the experience of pain

  • Seeing a photograph of a social support figure may prime associated psychological constructs (e.g., mental representations of feeling loved and supported), and the activation of these constructs is sufficient to dampen pain experience

  • Suggests it may be beneficial to bring photographs of loved ones when undergoing painful procedures

having their partner there decreased pain compared to other conditions and baseline

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Close others as a "safety signal": Neuroimaging evidence (methods)

  • Participants viewed photographs of close others (romantic partners), strangers, and objects during an fMRI study

  • While viewing these photographs, thermal pain was administered to participants' arms

  • On each trial, participants were asked to rate pain unpleasantness on a numerical scale

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Close others as a "safety signal": Neuroimaging evidence (results)

Reductions in self-reported pain ratings while simultaneously experiencing pain (via thermal stimulation) and viewing romantic partners' photographs is associated with:

  • Decreased activity in the dACC and AI (i.e. decreases in pain-related neural activity)

  • Increased activity in the VMPFC (possibly reflecting 'safety signaling') --- Greater VMPFC activity also associated with increased relationship duration and perceived partner support --- Other studies have implicated the VMPFC in safety signaling and fear extinction (pain ratings decrease as VMPFC activity increases)

Close others may serve as safety signals during threatening and painful experiences. The sense of safety and security triggered by close others can reduce threat- or distress-related responding

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Social distance

The closeness or familiarity of a social relationship

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Social distance and vicarious emotional experiences: Pain 'Contagion'

when viewing pain of someone you're close to, it strengthens your own pain (and your likelihood of helping them)

  • Vicarious emotional experience (e.g., "feeling" others' pain) tends to decrease with increasing social distance --- Driven in part by evolutionarily old mechanisms: --- Both humans and mice exhibit signs of more intense pain experience in response to familiar others'/cagemates' pain compared with strangers' pain

rat will help a rat only when it's a rat they know, not seen with strangers

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what factor might contribute to decreased emotional contagion between strangers?

One factor contributing to decreased emotional contagion between strangers: an endocrine stress response evoked when in the presence of strangers ("stranger danger" response)

  • Blocking this stress response pharmacologically (block receptors for adrenal stress hormones) enables emotional contagion between unfamiliar mice and between human strangers

  • Having human strangers engage in a shared, collaborative experience (playing 'Rock Band' together) together (but not alone) prior to testing decreases stress/cortisol in the presence of one another, thus facilitating emotional contagion between unfamiliar individuals

Blocking social stress response either pharmacologically or through a shared social experience, causes emotional contagion to occur between strangers as it would between friends/cagemates (evolutionarily-conserved)

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Social distance and vicarious emotional experiences: Reward 'Contagion'

The extent to which we value rewards received by others also decreases with increasing social distance

  • It is more pleasurable to observe friends receiving rewards than to observe strangers receiving rewards

--- Watching a stranger succeed and win rewards in a simple card-guessing game is less pleasurable than watching a friend do the same --- This is reflected both in subjective ratings and activity in the reward-related brain areas (e.g., ventral striatum)

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social distance intensifying emotional responses (disgust)

you are less grossed out by bodily fluids of people you know (the source effect)

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the source effect

Disgust responses increase with increasing social distance, such that disgusting material (e.g., vomit, urine, feces) emanating from unfamiliar others elicits greater disgust reactions, as measured by physiological responses, behavior, and self-report, relative to disgusting material emanating from more familiar others

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Evidence for the Source Effect

  • Sharing someone's bodily fluids becomes more disgusting as that person becomes less familiar

  • UK participants were asked to rank who they'd LEAST like to share a toothbrush with: --- Postman (59%), boss (25%), weatherman (9%), sibling (3%), best friend (2%), spouse/partner (2%)

  • Mothers find the smell of their babies diapers less disgusting than the smell of other babies' soiled diapers

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Functional Explanations for the Source Effect

  • Behavioral immune system hypothesis: unfamiliar people are more likely to carry novel germs, whereas more familiar people are more likely to have developed antibodies to similar germs

  • Increased disgust responses to unfamiliar others could reflect heightened activity of the "behavioral immune system" in situations where our physical immune system would be particularly vulnerable, such as during exposure to disease vectors emanating from unfamiliar others

  • Care facilitation hypothesis: reduced aversive responses to disgust-elicitors from close others may attenuate avoidance responses that would otherwise interfere with providing care and maintaining social bonds

social closeness does not always intensify our emotional reactions to those around us. Rather, how emotional responses are modulated by social relationships depends on the underlying functions of the emotions in question

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Viewing familiar faces engages brain systems involved in social cognition

Viewing familiar faces elicits greater activity in regions associated with social cognition and modeling other minds (e.g., TPJ, mPFC, precuneus) compared with viewing non-personally familiar faces

  • Suggested to reflect the spontaneous retrieval of social knowledge about the personality and attitudes of familiar individuals in order to foster appropriate social behavior by the perceiver

Subsequent work demonstrated that these same brain regions show increased responses when viewing faces that you've learned to associate particular behavioral tendencies

  • Claim: Person knowledge is spontaneously retrieved when encountering familiar individuals through the engagement of brain regions involved in social cognition

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Why do Humans Love to Gossip?

Most of our conversations (2/3) focus on social topics (e.g., other people's behavior)

  • This allows us to keep track of others' behavioral tendencies (e.g., Are they trustworthy?) even when we have limited (or no!) first-hand experiences with them

  • Tracking others' reputations and managing our own requires us to monitor and encode interactions and relationships beyond those that we participate in directly

  • Recent research suggests we track interactions between third parties to inform our own preferences and behaviors from an extremely young age

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human babies learn reputation through observation

more than 3/4 of babies reached for or looked longer at toy puppet that behaved nicely


  • Even as infants, humans track interactions between individualsand use that knowledge to shape inform our behavior.

  • Not just a default preference for nice over mean: infants keep track of who was mean to the nice person vs. who was mean to the mean person.

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social network

A series of social relationships that links a person directly to others, and through them indirectly to still more people

  • human relationships don't exist in a vacuum --> make up an interconnected network

this doesn't really include social media; more focused on real-life networks (may not be much overlap between online and real-life networks)

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social group vs. social network

social groups (like democrats/republicans, Canadians/Americans, etc.) describe a cluster of people, not the relationships between them like a social network does

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Degrees of Separation

  • Zero degrees: Self

  • One degree: Friend (degree of separation = 1)

  • Two degrees: Friend-of-a-friend

  • Three degrees: friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend


some research that everyone is connected by 7 degrees

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3 Degrees of Influence Rule

Your behavior significantly influences, and is influenced by, your friends, friends of your friends and friends of your friends' friends (i.e., up to 3 "degrees of separation" in your social network) but not farther

  • ex. probability of happiness if 1st degree relationship is happy is around 15%, decreases for each higher degree of separation (reaches 0% at 4 degrees)

can we predict character traits of others based on one person given their degree of separation?

  • if you have one first-degree obese contact, 50% higher likelihood of you being obese (decreases to almost 0% around 4 degrees)

  • Phenomena as diverse as happiness, tastes in popular media, divorce, obesity, alcohol and drug use, political mobilization and cooperative tendencies spread throughout our social networks, and this spread exhibits a striking empirical regularity

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Why do behaviors, attitudes and emotions spread in social networks?

could be causal, reverse causation, or third variable

  1. Causal influence (like a domino effect):

  • friend causes behavior: emotion contagion and behavioral mimicry

  • Shifting norms: e.g., your standards for what comprises normal or healthy behavior shift as the behaviors of those around you shift)

  • social connection causes common behavior

  1. Similar people are more likely to become friends ("birds of a feather flock together")

  • common behavior causes social connection

  1. Confounding - Friends are exposed to the same contexts that systematically impact their behavior

  • Environment causes social connection AND common behavior (ex. dorms)

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Do our brains process the world around us more similarly people closer to us in our social networks? (experiment)

does distance between people (degrees of separation) mirror what's happening in their heads?

  • Viewing rich dynamic stimuli (videos)

  • BOLD response time series (avg brain region activity over time)

  • Comparing neural activity across participants

participants were the social network of a graduate school cohort that was characterized

  • A subset of students completed an fMRI study involving watching videos in the scanner

  • showed videos that could be seen as cute or cheesy, funny or childish, new or familiar, agree or disagree

  • correlated the corresponding time series of brain activity while watching videos and extracted social distances between all pairs of participants

found similar neural responses in closest relationships (1st degree) with somewhat similar in 2nd degree and least similar in 3rd degree

  • People closer together in real-world social networks have similar neural responses to naturalistic stimuli (movies)

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for the degrees of separation & neural responses to videos experiment, how were the videos chosen?

Minimize uninformative variability (confounds)

  • Not previously seen

  • Engaging

Maximize informative variability (videos that people would have different reactions to)

  • Elicit variable interpretations, emotional reactions, and patterns of attentional engagement

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Sociometric Popularity/Status

The extent to which each group member is collectively liked

  • Individuals with higher sociometric popularity attract more attention and affiliative behavior from other group members

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why do we track others' sociometric popularity?

At least in humans, sociometric popularity may have similar consequences to dominance-based status (e.g., heightened behavioral relevance; attract more attention)

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how would we measure neural mechanisms tracking sociometric popularity in real-world social networks? (set-up)

  1. obtain information about the social network relationships and sociometric popularity

  2. obtain brain responses when participants are looking at pictures of different members of their community

  3. functionally localize regions of interest

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  1. how would we obtain information about social network relationships/popularity (to track how popularity is tracked)?

  • First characterized 2 real-world social networks

  • Obtained liking ratings among members of 2 social groups (MBA student clubs)

Node size ~ sociometric popularity (operationalized as the sum of liking ratings made by all other group members about that individual)

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  1. how would we obtain brain responses when participants are looking at different members of their community (to track how popularity is tracked)?

The same participants completed an fMRI study where they viewed each other's photographs

Distractor Task: Press button 1 whenever a real face is presented; button 2 whenever a "ghost face" (i.e. a morphed average of all other faces) is presented

  • Keeps participants' attention without creating demand effects/clueing them into the purpose of the study (i.e. investigating how brain responses differed as a function of the sociometric status of the person being viewed)

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  1. how would we functionally localize regions of interest (to track how popularity is tracked)?: monetary incentive delay task

Researchers also used independent functional localizers to identify

  • Brain regions involved in processing the affective value and motivational significance of stimuli

  • Brain regions involved in social cognition

Cue indicates whether or not the participant could earn rewards (money) on this particular trial

  • Following the cue, the participant must monitor for the target, which will be briefly presented following a variable delay

  • On reward trials, the participant can earn rewards if she/he responds while the target is on the screen (but not before or after)

  • On neutral trials, participants made the same response, but could not earn rewards

  • Reward trials > neutral trials contrast identified regions involved in the anticipation and receipt of reward (ventromedial prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, amygdala)

allows us to localize the regions we want by contrasting reward and neutral tasks

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how would we functionally localize regions of interest (to track how popularity is tracked)?: social cognition task

Participants viewed trait adjectives ("helpful")

Social cognition trials:

  • Judged to what extent that adjective described a particular group member or to what extent the other group member would ascribe that adjective to the participant himself/herself

Control trials:

  • Judged to what extent the adjective contained straight lines rather than curved lines

Social cognition > control trials contrast identified regions involved in judging other people's mental states and traits (dmPFC, precuneus, TPJ); mentalizing

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what were the discovered localized regions of interest in determining how popularity is tracked?

Valuation (vmPFC, VS, amygdala)

Social cognition (dmPFC, PC, TPJ)

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Neural mechanisms tracking sociometric popularity in real-world social networks (motivational significance results)

Activity in brain regions involved in processing the motivational significance and affective value of stimuli tracked the sociometric popularity of the person being viewed

  • The relationship between the sociometric popularity of the face being viewed and activity in these brain regions was significant after for controlling for the participant's own liking ratings

  • Suggests that we automatically deduce others' sociometric status (regardless of whether we ourselves like them or not), and if someone is high status, motivational processes are triggered that may incentivize interacting with those individuals and bias attention towards them

tracking the overall popular opinion, but not personal opinion

  • amygdala, vmPFC, VS (higher activity when popularity is high)

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Neural mechanisms tracking sociometric popularity in real-world social networks (social cognition results)

  • Activity in brain regions involved insocial cognition (e.g., thinking about other people's thoughts and traits) was positively correlated with the sociometric status of the face being viewed

  • Neural processing associated with social cognition is automatically elicited when encountering familiar others, and this is particularly pronounced for high sociometric status individuals (dmPFC, PC, TPJ; activity increased with popularity)

  • Suggests we are particularly attuned to the mental states of high sociometric status others

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how might conformity and social identity shape how we see?


  • Social norms shape what we find attractive

Social identity shapes visual perception

  • Effects of group membership on animacy and distance perception (even if you know nothing about what others in your ingroup are thinking)

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A form of social influence involving changing one's behavior or beliefs to match group norms

  • subdivisions: informational & normative social influence

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Informational social influence

The influence of other people that results from taking their comments or actions as a source of information about what is correct, proper, or effective

  • Involves publicly complying with a norm because you privately accept it (i.e., you believe the norm is correct)

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Normative social influence

The influence of other people that comes from the desire to avoid their disapproval and other social sanctions (ridicule, barbs, ostracism)

  • Involves publicly complying with a norm without privately accepting it (e.g., conforming because you do not want to be singled out or embarrassed)

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informational and normative social influence in everyday life (elevator experiment)

people will turn around in an elevator when everyone else is

  • informational: thinking that others know something I don't (ex. the elevator opens from the other door)

  • normative: turning around because everyone else is, don't necessarily agree with it

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Asch's Conformity Experiment

thought conformity wouldn't happen if there was an obvious answer (comparing lines)

  • said it was a study of visual acuity, choose line A, B, or C that's the same length as the reference

  • subject would be second-to-last to respond; confederates gave 2 correct answers, then all incorrect

  • subject would give the obviously wrong answers when others did

  • could be informational (believes group was correct & knew something he didn't) or normative (doesn't believe group but doesn't want to make waves)

demonstrated the degree to which an individuals own opinions are influences by those of a majority group.

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The Challenge of Disentangling Normative and Informational Social Influence

It's difficult to determine if conformity reflects private acceptance of group norms (i.e., informational social influence) or mere public compliance with them (i.e., normative social influence)

  • one approach to tease apart these possibilities behaviorally involves having people respond either anonymously or publicly

  • Results often show no difference in participants' agreement with others' opinions when they respond publicly vs. anonymously, even when group norms seem obviously wrong --- Suggests that demonstrating behavioral signs of conformity in physical privacy (e.g., anonymously) does not necessarily reflect private acceptance of a social norm

Such results could reflect the fact that our behavior is influenced not just by the actual presence of others, but by their imagined or implied presence too

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how could we use fMRI to disentangle normative and informational social influence? (background)

  • Certain neural responses are relatively impervious to demand characteristics and self-report biases --- behaving as you think experimenters want you to

  • Neuroimaging could provide a window into the degree to which conformity reflects private acceptance of social norms

Zaki tested if social influence modulates the neural computation of value using a paradigm where participants rated the attractiveness of faces before and after learning about how their peers rated each face

  • Used attractiveness ratings because they are known to be malleable to social influence

  • Brain regions involved in computing subjective value are known (e.g., OFC, ventral striatum)

  • Activity in these regions increases with the perceived attractiveness of faces

  • If activity in these brain regions is modulated by social influence effects, it would suggest that perceived norms actually influence how we perceive and value the stimuli (and not just outward attempts to "fit in"); privately accepting social norms

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using fMRI to disentangle normative and informational social influence (methods)

Behavioral task prior to scanning:

  • Participants rated 180 faces in terms of attractiveness

  • After rating, participants received feedback on how attractive a large group of peers considered the face --- options were that the "normative" rating was 2-3 points higher (peers-higher condition), 2-3 points lower (peers-lower condition), or the same as the participant's rating (peers-agree condition) --- No feedback provided in no feedback condition

fMRI Study: (after some time)

  • Face Rating Task --- Participants saw the same faces in the fMRI study and rated them again for attractiveness (but without any peer feedback) --- A subset of faces from each condition that were equivalent in terms of participants' initial attractiveness ratings were used for data analysis (pt had initially rated them as equally attractive)

Monetary Incentive Delay task (MID) was used to identify brain regions that respond to the reward value of stimuli

--> are participants' brains treating the faces as more or less attractive after peer evaluation?

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using fMRI to disentangle normative and informational social influence (results)

After learning about "normative" ratings, participants rated faces in the "peers higher" condition as more attractive than those in the "peers lower" condition

  • raised ratings in peers higher condition, kept rating the same in peers agree condition and no feedback, lowered ratings in peers lower condition (consistent with what others thought)

  • Even though participants initially found all of the faces included in these analyses to be equivalently attractive, reward-related brain regions (OFC; ventral striatum/NA) responded stronger to faces that their peers supposedly found more attractive, and less strongly to faces that their peers supposedly found less attractive --- NAcc gave positive response in peers higher, negative response in peers lower; OFC gave negative response in all but peers higher

  • Suggests that others' opinions can shape the neural computation of value (what we find attractive), so that informational, not just normative, social influence is at play

the rating isn't just changing on the surface, the brain is evaluating them differently

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Mind Perception

Mind perception is categorical: There is a "tipping point" where a face suddenly begins to look animate or "like it has a mind"

  • The threshold for perceiving a face as human is relatively stringent (i.e., life and mind only begin to "appear" once the face is close to the human end-point of the morph continuum)

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Minimal Groups Paradigm

An experimental paradigm in which researchers create groups based on arbitrary and seemingly meaningless criteria and then examine how the members of these "minimal groups" perceive and behave toward one another (participants shouldn't care about group membership--yet they do)

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is mind perception impacted by social factors? (methods)

Can the threshold at which you begin to see a face as human (not an inanimate object) be modulated by social factors (e.g., group membership)?

  • Participants were randomly assigned to groups using the minimal groups paradigm & were randomly told they were an underestimator or an overestimator

  • Participants then assessed a continuum of face morphs that ranged from human to doll faces --- These faces were either described as in-group (under-estimators, if you were told you were an under-estimator) or out-group (over-estimators, if you were told you were an under-estimator) faces

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is mind perception impacted by social factors? (results)

Participants had higher (more stringent) thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces, even for arbitrary and experimentally assigned groups

  • Morphs said to depict out-group members had to "have more humanness" (more closely resemble the 100% human end of the morph continuum) in order to be perceived as having minds --- Morphs of in-group faces begin to look human at 61% human/39% doll --- Morphs of out-group faces begin to look human at 67% human/33% doll

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mind perception & social factors in real-world groups (experiment)


  • Researchers repeated the same paradigm, but this time told participants that faces corresponded to students at their college (NYU) or another college similar in size/status

  • gave a questionnaire assessing collective identification with the in-group (ex. how much participants felt invested in and defined themselves as members of their college community)


  • The results of original experiment were replicated using real-world groups (participants had more stringent threshold for perceiving minds behind out-group faces)

  • These effects seemed to be driven by participants who identified strongly with their in-group (modulated by strength of ingroup identity)

Conclusions: collective identification modulates inter-group bias in mind perception

  • People who identify more strongly with their in-group show stronger inter-group bias

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social factors & distance perception (background)

Previous research has shown that threatening things appear CLOSER to us than they actually are

  • e.g., Spiders are estimated to be closer to us than neutral objects, and this effect is especially strong for spider-phobics

Are threatening social groups (e.g., competitor or enemy groups) also seen as illusorily close to us?

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social factors & distance perception (methods)

Yankees fans and non-Yankees fans at Yankees stadium estimated the distance to 2 different teams' stadiums

  • Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox, a close rival to the Yankees)

  • Camden Gardens (home of the Baltimore Orioles, not a threat to the Yankees at the time; Orioles were ranked last in the league)

In reality: Orioles Stadium was ~170 miles away, Red Sox Stadium was ~190 miles away

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social factors & distance perception (results)

  • Non-Yankees fans correctly indicated that the Red Sox stadium was farther away from them than the Orioles stadium

  • Yankees fans perceived the Red Sox stadium to be illusorily closer to them

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how were the results from the experiment looking at social factors & distance perception malleable?

In a follow-up study, researchers had NYU students estimate the distance to Columbia University campus in 1 of 2 conditions:

  • Threat condition: Participants read a news story portraying Columbia as a superior rival to NYU

  • Control condition: Participants read a news story highlighting the positive aspects of both universities

NYU students perceived Columbia University as closer to them when it was portrayed as threatening to NYU

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principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.

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Moral judgment vs. moral decision-making

something can be bad behavior/factually wrong without seeming morally wrong, and the things that we make moral judgments about vary a lot (and disagreement)

Moral judgment: how people evaluate/judge acts in terms of their moral wrongness/rightness (How morally acceptable is it to X?, How blameworthy is it to X?); decisions a jury would have to make

Moral decision-making: how people decide between various options with real consequences for themselves or others

  • Do you prefer the selfish option or the generous option?

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Traditional theories of moral development

Traditional theories focused on the role of cognitive processes

  • Lawrence Kohlberg & moral development as progressing alongside cognitive development

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The role of emotion in moral judgment (moral dumbfounding)

More recent work has focused on the role of emotion in moral judgment

the emotional dog and its rational tail:

  • theory that people make moral judgements based on gut reactions they later rationalize (moral dumbfounding)

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moral dumbfounding

An inarticulable but firm conviction that something is morally wrong (or right)

"I can't explain why. I just know that it's wrong"

  • make up reasons post-hoc

  • seen when taboo is broken, but no harm done

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how can emotions sometimes drive moral judgments

evoking disgust: fart spray makes people more likely to disapprove of legalized marriage between first cousins and first cousins having sex

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A theory of dual-process morality

  • Both intuitive emotional responses and controlled cognitive responses play crucial and (in some cases) mutually competitive roles

  • Developed to explain a longstanding philosophical puzzle known as the "trolley problem"

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Utilitarianism vs. Deontology

  • Utilitarian theories judge the moral status of actions solely on the extent to which they impartially maximize aggregate welfare of all sentient beings

  • Deontological theories hold that the moral status of actions does not depend only on their consequences but also characteristics of the act itself --- can do something wrong even if action doesn't hurt anyone

trolley problem pits these against each other

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Trolley Problem 1: The Switch

flipping switch to save 4 people and kill one

  • most people say to hit the switch

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Trolley Problem 2: The Footbridge

pushing man off bridge to stop train: save 4 people and kill one

  • most people say not to push man off bridge

feels different than the switch problem

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why do the 2 trolley problems feel so different?

most people's moral intuitions tell them flipping the switch is fine, but throwing the man off is not

  • Why do the 2 trolley problems feel so different?

According to the dual-process theory:

  • Moral reasoning involves automatic emotional responses, as well as more controlled cognitive reasoning --- Both dilemmas recruit utilitarian reasoning --- The footbridge dilemma also elicits a pre-potent, negative emotional response, which wins out, and drives moral disapproval --- The 'switch' dilemma does not elicit much emotion, so utilitarian reasoning wins out

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the two trolley problems in the dual-process morality framework

  • Controlled cognitive processing is associated with utilitarian moral judgment

  • Intuitive emotional processing is associated with deontological moral judgment

  • People tend to disapprove of the action in the footbridge version because the harmful action elicits a prepotent negative emotional response

  • People tend to approve of the action in the switch version because, in the absence of a countervailing prepotent emotional response, they default to a utilitarian mode of reasoning that favors trading one life for five

  • The negative emotional response elicited by the footbridge version is related to the more "personal" nature of the harm in that case --- directly being the source of harm

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Cognitive load selectively interferes with utilitarian moral judgments

story given of baby crying when soldiers search their house: whether to stifle/kill baby or let it cry and get soldiers' attention?

  • given load (have to simultaneously do another task like a visual search)

  • when participants make a non-utilitarian judgement (emotional; ex. don't kill baby), their reaction times don't differ with load or without

  • when participants make a utilitarian judgement, their reaction time is much higher with load than without

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VMPFC & moral judgements

vmPFC is involved in generating emotional responds; activated when people make judgements that involve conflicts between utilitarian judgements and non-utilitarian judgements

  • used brain damage control group (damage to other brain areas, so effects seen are specific to vmPFC and not general brain damage) as well as non-brain damaged controls

  • found that damage to vmPFC increases utilitarian moral judgements (will often endorse throwing man off bridge or smothering baby due to less emotional interference) --- 3 groups scored equal on impersonal endorsement, vmPFC scored much higher on personal (man off bridge) endorsement)

show that emotions are important in making moral judgements about harm

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how are intentions related to moral judgement?

  • one researcher used TMS on brain region involved in determining how much blame should be given in accidental poisoning (RTPJ)

(should know whether person might hurt you in the future)

Assessments of whether or not someone INTENDED to cause harm are particularly impactful on moral judgments about harmful transgressions

Attempted (but failed) arms are judged nearly as harshly as actual harms, while people judge accidental harms to be less wrong

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sugar vs. poison thought experiment (intentions)

how much blame should be given if:

  • you give your friend sugar, but think it's poison --> it isn't poison, and they're fine

  • you give your friend poison thinking it's sugar, and they die

shows that intentions matter even if the outcome was the same

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The role of intention in moral judgment

Greater RTPJ (important in mentalizing) responses during accidental harm judgments correlated with lower blame assignments

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Disrupting RTPJ activity with TMS (methods)

Young used TMS to temporarily disrupt neural activity in right TPJ

  • Experiment 1: offline stimulation before moral judgment

  • Experiment 2: online stimulation during moral judgment

Stimulation site was determined for each participant with a ToM localizer task (false belief vs. false photo)

  • localization using fMRI

Compared stimulation of RTPJ with control site (right parietal cortex)

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Disrupting RTPJ activity with TMS (results)

Disrupting activity in the RTPJ makes people judge attempted (but unsuccessful) harms as more morally permissible

  • no difference for other states (ex. purposeful, successful harm)

  • RTPJ is critical for integrating mental states into moral judgments, particularly for attempted harms

block TPJ = outcome, activate TPJ = intentions

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what makes up the neural basis of social interactions?

  1. Social Decision-Making

  • Neural basis of cooperation and fairness

  1. Social Communication

  • Brain-to-brain coupling during conversation

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game theory

Game theory is a type of mathematical model that captures how an individual's success in making decisions is influenced by the decisions of others.

  • In psychology and neuroscience, game theory is often applied to systematically study 'real life' social decision making

--- Sometimes, individual gain is sacrificed for other principles (e.g., fairness) --> "predictably irrational" decisions

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Prisoner's Dilemma

  • one prisoner betrays, one remains silent = 0 years, 10 years

  • both remain silent = both 6 months

  • both betray = 5 years

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what is the dilemma in the prisoner's dilemma?

Betrayal (defection) is the optimal individual solution for both players because

  • defection: 5 or 0 years

  • silence: 10 years or 6 months

The dilemma arises because the best collective decision is for both players to cooperate (i.e. remain silent).

  • This gives the lowest collective prison sentence.

  • People often choose the best collective decision (mutual cooperation), rather than the best individual solution (defect), suggesting that they are considering the interests of the other player.

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repeated versions of the prisoner's dilemma

The previous version is a one-shot game (i.e. no scope for retaliation, development of trust, or learning the other person's strategy)

Iterative versions:

  • Are played over several rounds

  • Prison sentences swapped for monetary rewards

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neural correlates of cooperation (experiment: computer vs. human)

Participants played 20 rounds of the Prisoner's Dilemma with the same partner during fMRI scanning

Mutual cooperation:

  • was the most common outcome (even though it isn't the best individual option)

  • was associated with greater activity in reward-related brain areas (e.g., OFC, ventral striatum) than any other option

If playing with a computer (rather than human) partner, mutual cooperation

  • become far less frequent (defection becomes the most common response)

  • is associated with less activity in reward-related brain areas compared with the human-partner condition

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what are the neural correlates of cooperation?

mutual cooperation associated with greater activity in reward-related brain areas (e.g., OFC, ventral striatum)

When the participant cooperates, and their partner defects, this is associated with:

  • increased activity in the insula and amygdala

  • the experience of anger, irritation, and disappointment

when making social decisions, people consider not only what would benefit THEM the most in that moment, but also others' interests and their own reputations

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fairness and social decision-making in monkeys

one monkey gets cucumber, other gets grapes (stronger reward)

  • first monkey will get upset at unfairness of other getting better reward, will start throwing cucumber instead of eating it

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the ultimatum game

A game in which a proposer is given a sum of money and makes an offer to a responder as to how this money should be split between them. The responder must choose to accept the offer or reject it.

  • To maximize his/her earnings, the Responder should always accept the Proposer's offer,since the alternative is to get nothing, but people often reject unfair offers

  • may be evolutionarily advantageous to reduce freeloaders in the group

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emotional responses to unfairness

  • Unfair treatment triggers emotional responses (e.g. anger)

  • Emotional arousal (as measured by skin conductance response) is correlated with punishment (rejecting offers)

  • People expect to be treated fairly and have negative emotional responses when they are treated unfairly. This leads to punishment, sometimes evenat their own expense.

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examining neural responses to unfairness (methods)

  • Participants played the Responder role in one-shot ultimatum games with many different Proposers during fMRI scanning

  • Fair (50/50) or unfair (e.g., 80/20) offers from a human or computer

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examining neural responses to unfairness (results)

People were more likely to accept unfair offers from a computer than from a human

  • This may reflect the fact that people tend to reject unfair offers because of a desire to punish

For human partners (more than for computer partners), unfair offers activated the insula, ACC, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)

  • Insula and ACC activity interpreted as negative emotional response (e.g., disgust)

  • why DLPFC? its activity is often related to control of responses

TMS over DLPFC in the Responder's brain increases tendency to accept unfair offers, but not the perception of fairness

  • Suggests the DLPFC normally plays a role in inhibiting responses based on self-interest (i.e., accepting any offer, even if it's unfair) to promote fairness

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brain-to-brain coupling during communication (methods)

Communication allows us to transmit ideas and memories between brains--neural basis?

  1. A Speaker was recorded telling a story while undergoing fMRI scanning

  2. Listeners heard a recording of the story while undergoing fMRI scanning

  • Brain-to-brain coupling was measured by comparing fMRI response times series (how activity rose and fell over time) at corresponding points in the Speaker's brain and each Listener's brain

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brain-to-brain coupling during communication (results)

speaker made listener's brain look like their own

Coupling between the Speaker's brain and Listener's brain was observed in brain regions involved in producing/understanding speech, & regions involved in understanding beliefs, desires, and goals (e.g., RTPJ, precuneus, MPFC)

  • Listeners who understood the story better showed greater coupling to the Speaker (i.e., their neural responses were more similar)

  • Stronger similarity between the Speaker's brain and the Listener's brain is associated with better communication

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Factors that determine who we fall in love with

  • Proximity

  • familiarity

  • physical attractiveness (more likely to form with those perceived as equally attractive; matching hypothesis)

  • similarity of attitudes

  • reciprocal liking

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How does the presence of a partner impact physical pain thresholds?

less autonomic reactivity (stress buffer)

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the process by which animals (particularly birds) recognize and seek proximity with a mother figure

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How does imprinting relate to attachment in humans?

Compares to formation of attachment relationships in humans in how the mother is the first and strongest (around 7-8 months), but more flexibility in number and when

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Harlow's monkeys

If given a choice between an artificial wire 'monkey' that provides milk and an artificial cuddly 'monkey' (who provides no milk), they would spend more time with the latter, going over to the wire monkey only when hungry

  • Disproved that maternal attachment was association between mother and the set of rewards she provided alone

  • Attachment is innate, not learned (primary reinforcer)

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Prairie vs. montane voles

Permanent (as opposed to transient) oxytocin receptors in the brain causes more longer-term attachments

  • Seen in prairie voles, which form enduring pain bonds, as opposed to montane voles

  • Similar oxytocin cell populations, but differ in oxytocin receptor types

  • In prairie voles, males are more responsive to vasopressin and females to oxytocin

  • May enhance gender-specific behavior linked to social relationships (ex. Male aggression towards intruders)

  • Oxytocin calms HPA

  • activation of both dopamine and oxytocin receptors within the nucleus accumbens is required for partner preference formation in prairie voles

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Health consequences of perceived loneliness

  • Associated with greater cognitive decline in old age

  • Predicts elevated blood pressure

  • Intelligence deficits when imagined lonely future

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Moll: fMRI study of donating to charity (experiment)

shown charity names and missions--could donate or not (options either incurred a cost to pts or no cost)

  • In a separate condition, they were given a pure reward (e.g. You = +$5, Charity = $0)

Choosing to donate to a charity activated some of the same neural circuitry (including the ventral and dorsal striatum) as receiving a pure reward - even when giving incurs a cost

other regions did differentiate these conditions

  • vmPFC: responded when participants decided to donate (but not to pure reward)

  • lateral OFC: activated by decisions not to donate

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