Neural dissociations between meaningful and mere inconsistency in impression updating

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Recent neuroimaging work has identified a network of regions that work in concert to update impressions of other people, particularly in response to inconsistent behavior. However, the specific functional contributions of these regions to the updating process remain unclear. Using fMRI, we tested whether increases in activity triggered by inconsistent behavior reflect changes in the stored representations of other people in response to behavioral inconsistency, or merely a response to the inconsistency itself. Participants encountered a series of individuals whose behavior either changed in an attributionally meaningful fashion or was merely inconsistent with the immediately preceding behavior. We observed that left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) and left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) were preferentially recruited in response to unexpected, immoral behavior, whereas a separate set of regions (including dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex and temporoparietal junction/inferior parietal lobule) was preferentially recruited in response to more mundane inconsistencies in behavior. These results shed light on the distributed systems supporting impression updating. Specifically, while many regions supporting updating may primarily respond to moment-to-moment changes in behavior, a subset of regions (e.g. vlPFC and IFG) may contribute to updating person representations in response to trait-relevant changes in behavior.

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