OPEN Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 5 Apr 2016
S Anders, R de Jong, C Beck, JD Haynes and T Ethofer
Being able to comprehend another person’s intentions and emotions is essential for successful social interaction. However, it is currently unknown whether the human brain possesses a neural mechanism that attracts people to others whose mental states they can easily understand. Here we show that the degree to which a person feels attracted to another person can change while they observe the other’s affective behavior, and that these changes depend on the observer’s confidence in having correctly understood the other’s affective state. At the neural level, changes in interpersonal attraction were predicted by activity in the reward system of the observer’s brain. Importantly, these effects were specific to individual observer-target pairs and could not be explained by a target’s general attractiveness or expressivity. Furthermore, using multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA), we found that neural activity in the reward system of the observer’s brain varied as a function of how well the target’s affective behavior matched the observer’s neural representation of the underlying affective state: The greater the match, the larger the brain’s intrinsic reward signal. Taken together, these findings provide evidence that reward-related neural activity during social encounters signals how well an individual’s “neural vocabulary” is suited to infer another person’s affective state, and that this intrinsic reward might be a source of changes in interpersonal attraction.
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