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Neural Components of Social Evaluation

Neural Components of Social Evaluation

Abstract

Evaluative responses appear to involve 2 seemingly distinct sets of processes: those that are automatically activated and others that are more consciously controlled. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the authors investigated the brain systems associated with automatic and controlled evaluative processing. Participants made either evaluative (good-bad) or nonevaluative (past-present) judgments about famous names. Greater amygdala activity was observed for names rated as “bad” relative to those rated as “good,” regardless of whether the task directly involved an evaluative judgment (good-bad) or not (past-present). Good-bad judgments resulted in greater medial and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity than past-present judgments. Furthermore, there was greater ventrolateral PFC activity in good-bad judgments marked by greater ambivalence. Together, these findings indicate a neural distinction between processes engaged for automatic and controlled evaluation. Whereas automatic processes are sensitive to simple valence, controlled processes are sensitive to attitudinal complexity.
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