Article | Published:

A neural mechanism of first impressions

Nature Neuroscience volume 12, pages 508514 (2009) | Download Citation

Abstract

Evaluating social others requires processing complex information. Nevertheless, we can rapidly form an opinion of an individual during an initial encounter. Moreover, people can vary in these opinions, even though the same information is provided. We investigated the brain mechanisms that give rise to the impressions that are formed on meeting a new person. Neuroimaging revealed that responses in the amygdala and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) were stronger while encoding social information that was consistent, relative to inconsistent, with subsequent evaluations. In addition, these responses scaled parametrically with the strength of evaluations. These findings provide evidence for encoding differences on the basis of subsequent evaluations, suggesting that the amygdala and PCC are important for forming first impressions.

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Acknowledgements

We thank I. Levy and D. Amodio for fruitful discussions and comments, C. Raio for assistance with data collection, and K. Sanzenbach and the Center for Brain Imaging at New York University for technical assistance. This study was funded by a Seaver Foundation grant to the Center for Brain Imaging, a James S. McDonnell Foundation grant to E.A.P. and a Fulbright award to D.S.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Center for Neural Science, Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, New York, USA.

    • Daniela Schiller
    •  & Elizabeth A Phelps
  2. Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, New York, USA.

    • Daniela Schiller
    • , Jonathan B Freeman
    • , James S Uleman
    •  & Elizabeth A Phelps
  3. Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Jonathan B Freeman
  4. Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Jason P Mitchell

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Contributions

D.S. designed the experiments, collected and analyzed data, interpreted the data, and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. J.B.F. contributed to data collection, analysis and interpretation, and the final version of the manuscript. J.P.M., J.S.U. and E.A.P. contributed to experimental design, data interpretation and the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Daniela Schiller or Elizabeth A Phelps.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2278

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