Extracting Social Meaning from a Face: The Neural Substrates and Behavioral Repercussions of Mind Perception
44 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2015 Last revised: 22 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 19, 2015
Social cognition requires using visual cues such as a human face to recognize the presence of an entity with a mind. Here, we examined how bottom-up visual evidence and top-down social cues shape inferences about the presence of another mind, and demonstrate behavioral consequences of perceiving minds. Across two experiments, participants viewed morphs between human and inanimate faces that differed in social group membership (nationality in Experiment 1; sports rivalry in Experiment 2), and assessed whether each face had a mind. Neuroimaging revealed that the objective humanness of faces was associated with activity in posterior parietal cortex, and responses in this region were modulated by group membership in a top-down manner (Experiment 1). Moreover, participants perceived faces of out-group members as less able to plan and less able to feel than in-group members or members of a neutral group. However, this bias was flexible as a function of perceived out-group threat: out-group threat was associated with more derogation in judgments of experience, but less derogation in judgments of agency. Finally, differences in mind perception predicted biases in pain management and aggression towards members of the out-group (Experiment 2). This research demonstrates that bottom-up and top-down cues shape the extraction of social meaning from visual evidence, which predicts intergroup bias in downstream behavior. Together, these findings support a theoretical view of mind perception as a dynamic and contextualized process at the intersection of perception and social cognition.
Keywords: Mind perception, social perception, perceptual decisions, intergroup relations, social neuroscience
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