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

Leor Hackel

New York University (NYU)

Peter Mende-Siedlecki

Princeton University - Department of Psychology

Christine Looser

Harvard Business School

Jay Van Bavel

New York University (NYU) - Department of Psychology

Date Written: September 19, 2015

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Hackel, Leor and Mende-Siedlecki, Peter and Looser, Christine and Van Bavel, Jay, Extracting Social Meaning from a Face: The Neural Substrates and Behavioral Repercussions of Mind Perception (September 19, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2662842 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2662842

Leor Hackel

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Peter Mende-Siedlecki

Princeton University - Department of Psychology

Green Hall
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Christine Looser

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Jay Van Bavel (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Department of Psychology ( email )

New York, NY 10003
United States

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