Kevin Lewis

November 29, 2015

Neural mechanisms tracking popularity in real-world social networks

Noam Zerubavel et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Differences in popularity are a key aspect of status in virtually all human groups and shape social interactions within them. Little is known, however, about how we track and neurally represent others’ popularity. We addressed this question in two real-world social networks using sociometric methods to quantify popularity. Each group member (perceiver) viewed faces of every other group member (target) while whole-brain functional MRI data were collected. Independent functional localizer tasks were used to identify brain systems supporting affective valuation (ventromedial prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, amygdala) and social cognition (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, temporoparietal junction), respectively. During the face-viewing task, activity in both types of neural systems tracked targets’ sociometric popularity, even when controlling for potential confounds. The target popularity–social cognition system relationship was mediated by valuation system activity, suggesting that observing popular individuals elicits value signals that facilitate understanding their mental states. The target popularity–valuation system relationship was strongest for popular perceivers, suggesting enhanced sensitivity to differences among other group members’ popularity. Popular group members also demonstrated greater interpersonal sensitivity by more accurately predicting how their own personalities were perceived by other individuals in the social network. These data offer insights into the mechanisms by which status guides social behavior.


The Other Side of Sharing: How Photo-taking Goals Impact Evaluations of Experiences

Alixandra Barasch, Gal Zauberman & Kristin Diehl
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, September 2015

Millions of people share photos of their personal experiences every day. While prior work has looked exclusively at the effects of sharing information about an experience after it ends, sharing photos differs from other sharing methods by requiring people to take action during the experience itself, often with the intention to share already in mind. Accordingly, we investigate a distinct and novel aspect of this process: how this salient sharing goal affects enjoyment during the experience itself. Across three field and six laboratory studies, we find that relative to taking pictures for oneself (e.g., to preserve one’s memories), taking pictures with the intention to share them with others (e.g., to post on Facebook) reduces enjoyment of experiences. This effect occurs because taking photos to share increases self-presentational concern during the experience, which can not only reduce enjoyment directly, but also indirectly by lowering engagement with the experience. We identify several factors that affect self-presentational concern and thus moderate the effect of photo-taking goals on enjoyment, such as the closeness of the intended audience, the salience of the ability to delete photos during the experience, and the amount of time before the photos will be shared or reviewed in the future.


Social class affects Mu-suppression during action observation

Michael Varnum, Chris Blais & Gene Brewer
Social Neuroscience, forthcoming

Socioeconomic status (SES) has been linked to differences in the degree to which people are attuned to others. Those who are lower in SES also tend to be more interpersonally attuned. However, to date, this work has not been demonstrated using neural measures. In the present electroencephalogram study, we found evidence that lower SES was linked to stronger Mu-suppression during action observation. This finding adds to the growing literature on factors that affect Mu-suppression and suggests that the mirror neuron system may be influenced by one’s social class.


Giving support to others reduces sympathetic nervous system-related responses to stress

Tristen Inagaki & Naomi Eisenberger
Psychophysiology, forthcoming

Social support is a major contributor to the link between social ties and beneficial health outcomes. Research to date has focused on how receiving support from others might be good for us; however, we know less about the health effects of giving support to others. Based on prior work in animals showing that stimulating neural circuitry important for caregiving behavior can reduce sympathetic-related responses to stressors, it is possible that, in humans, giving to others can reduce stressor-evoked sympathetic nervous system responding, which has implications for health outcomes. To test the effect of giving support on the physiological stress response, participants either wrote a supportive note to a friend (support-giving condition) or wrote about their route to school/work (control condition) before undergoing a standard laboratory-based stress task. Physiological responses (heart rate, blood pressure, salivary alpha-amylase, salivary cortisol), and self-reported stress were collected throughout the protocol. In line with hypotheses, support giving (vs. control) reduced sympathetic-related responses (systolic blood pressure and alpha-amylase) to the stressor. No effects of support giving were found on self-reported psychological stress or cortisol levels. Results add to existing knowledge of the pathways by which support giving may lead to health benefits and highlight the contribution of giving to others in the broader social support-health link.


My friends are all alike – the relation between liking and perceived similarity in person perception

Hans Alves, Alex Koch & Christian Unkelbach
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, January 2016, Pages 103–117

Past research showed that people accumulate more knowledge about other people and objects they like compared to those they dislike. More knowledge is commonly assumed to lead to more differentiated mental representations; therefore, people should perceive others they like as less similar to one another than others they dislike. We predict the opposite outcome based on the density hypothesis (Unkelbach, Fiedler, Bayer, Stegmüller, & Danner, 2008); accordingly, positive impressions are less diverse than negative impressions as there are only a few ways to be liked but many ways to be disliked. Therefore, people should perceive liked others as more similar to one another than disliked others even though they have more knowledge about liked others. Seven experiments confirm this counterintuitive prediction and show a strong association between liking and perceived similarity in person perception. We discuss the implications of these results for different aspects of person perception.


In-Group Ostracism Increases High-Fidelity Imitation in Early Childhood

Rachel Watson-Jones, Harvey Whitehouse & Cristine Legare
Psychological Science, forthcoming

The Cyberball paradigm was used to examine the hypothesis that children use high-fidelity imitation as a reinclusion behavior in response to being ostracized by in-group members. Children (N = 176; 5- to 6-year-olds) were either included or excluded by in- or out-group members and then shown a video of an in-group or an out-group member enacting a social convention. Participants who were excluded by their in-group engaged in higher-fidelity imitation than those who were included by their in-group. Children who were included by an out-group and those who were excluded by an out-group showed no difference in imitative fidelity. Children ostracized by in-group members also displayed increased anxiety relative to children ostracized by out-group members. The data are consistent with the proposal that high-fidelity imitation functions as reinclusion behavior in the context of in-group ostracism.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.