Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1420–1437 | Cite as

Sticking with the nice guy: Trait warmth information impairs learning and modulates person perception brain network activity

  • Victoria K. Lee
  • Lasana T. Harris


Social learning requires inferring social information about another person, as well as evaluating outcomes. Previous research shows that prior social information biases decision making and reduces reliance on striatal activity during learning (Delgado, Frank, & Phelps, Nature Neuroscience 8 (11): 1611-1618, 2005). A rich literature in social psychology on person perception demonstrates that people spontaneously infer social information when viewing another person (Fiske & Taylor, 2013) and engage a network of brain regions, including the medial prefrontal cortex, temporal parietal junction, superior temporal sulcus, and precuneus (Amodio & Frith, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(4), 268-277, 2006; Haxby, Gobbini, & Montgomery, 2004; van Overwalle Human Brain Mapping, 30, 829–858, 2009). We investigate the role of these brain regions during social learning about well-established dimensions of person perception—trait warmth and trait competence. We test the hypothesis that activity in person perception brain regions interacts with learning structures during social learning. Participants play an investment game where they must choose an agent to invest on their behalf. This choice is guided by cues signaling trait warmth or trait competence based on framing of monetary returns. Trait warmth information impairs learning about human but not computer agents, while trait competence information produces similar learning rates for human and computer agents. We see increased activation to warmth information about human agents in person perception brain regions. Interestingly, activity in person perception brain regions during the decision phase negatively predicts activity in the striatum during feedback for trait competence inferences about humans. These results suggest that social learning may engage additional processing within person perception brain regions that hampers learning in economic contexts.


Social learning Person perception Social cognition Trait warmth/competence 



Funding for this project was provided by startup funds given to L.T.H. by Duke University. We would like to thank those who provided helpful comments on early versions of this project at the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society conference (2012), including Mauricio Delgado.

Competing Financial Interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Center for Cognitive NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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