Brain networks of social comparison

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Abstract

Social comparison, that is, the process of comparing oneself to other people, is a ubiquitous social cognitive mechanism; however, so far its neural correlates have remained unknown. The present study tested the hypothesis that social comparisons are supported by partly dissociated networks, depending on whether the dimension under comparison concerns a physical or a psychological attribute. We measured brain activity with functional MRI, whereas participants were comparing their own height or intelligence to that of individuals they personally know. Height comparisons were associated with higher activity in a frontoparietal network involved in spatial and numerical cognition. Conversely, intelligence comparisons recruited a network of midline areas that have been previously implicated in the attribution of mental states to oneself and others (Theory of mind). These findings suggest that social comparisons rely on diverse domain-specific mechanisms rather than on one unitary process.

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