Does context matter in evaluations of stigmatized individuals? An fMRI study

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The manner in which disparate affective responses shape attitudes toward other individuals has received a great deal of attention in neuroscience research. However, the malleability of these affective responses remains largely unexplored. The perceived controllability of a stigma (whether or not the bearer of the stigma is perceived as being responsible for his or her condition) has been found to polarize behavioral affective responses to that stigma. The current study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify the neural correlates underlying the evaluation of stigmatized individuals (people who are homeless) when perceptions of the controllability of their condition are altered. Results demonstrated that perceivers engaged neural networks implicated in inferring intentionality (e.g. the medial prefrontal cortex) when they evaluated a homeless individual who was described as being responsible for becoming homeless. Conversely, neural networks associated with resolving strong affective responses (e.g. insula) were engaged when evaluating a homeless individual who was described as not being responsible for becoming homeless.

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