Ames, D. L., & Fiske, S. T. (in press). Outcome dependency alters the neural substrates of impression formation. NeuroImage.
Abstract: How do people maintain consistent impressions of other people when other people are often inconsistent? The present research addresses this question by combining recent neuroscientific insights with ecologically meaningful behavioral methods. Participants formed impressions of real people whom they met in a personally involving situation. fMRI and supporting behavioral data revealed that outcome dependency (i.e., depending on another person for a desired outcome) alters previously identified neural dynamics of impression formation. Consistent with past research, a functional localizer identified a region of dorsomedial PFC previously linked to social impression formation. In the main task, this ROI revealed the predicted patterns of activity across outcome dependency conditions: greater BOLD response when information confirmed (vs. violated) social expectations if participants were outcome-independent, and the reverse pattern if participants were outcome-dependent. We suggest that, although social perceivers often discount expectancy-disconfirming information as noise, being dependent on another person for a desired outcome focuses impression-formation processing on the most diagnostic information, rather than on the most tractable information.
Click here to read The Huffington Post's writeup of this research.