Neural network integration during the perception of in-group and out-group members
Group biases guide social interactions by promoting in-group favouritism, but the neural mechanisms underpinning group biases remain unclear. While neuroscience research has shown that distributed brain circuits are associated with seeing in-group and out-group members as “us” and “them”, it is less clear how these networks exchange signals. This fMRI study uses functional connectivity analyses to investigate the contribution of functional integration to group bias modulation of person perception. Participants were assigned to an arbitrary group and during scanning they observed bodies of in-group or out-group members that cued the recall of positive or negative social knowledge. The results showed that functional coupling between perceptual and cognitive neural networks is tuned to particular combinations of group membership and social knowledge valence. Specifically, coupling between body perception and theory-of-mind networks is biased towards seeing a person that had previously been paired with information consistent with group bias (positive for in-group and negative for out-group). This demonstrates how brain regions associated with visual analysis of others and belief reasoning exchange and integrate signals when evaluating in-group and out-group members. The results update models of person perception by showing how and when interplay occurs between perceptual and extended systems when developing a representation of another person.