Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1255–1264 | Cite as

Individual differences in social desirability are associated with white-matter microstructure of the external capsule

  • Milan Andrejević
  • Dar Meshi
  • Wouter van den Bos
  • Hauke R. Heekeren


Humans tend to present themselves in a positive light to gain social approval. This behavioral trait, termed social desirability, is important for various types of social success. Surprisingly, investigation into the neural underpinnings of social desirability has been limited and focused only on interindividual differences in dopamine receptor binding. These studies revealed reduced dopamine receptor binding in the striatum of individuals who are high in trait social desirability. Interestingly, high dopamine signaling has been associated with low white-matter integrity, irrespective of social desirability. Based on these findings, we hypothesized that a positive association exists between trait social desirability and the white-matter microstructure of the external capsule, which carries fibers to the striatum from the prefrontal cortex. To test this hypothesis, we collected diffusion tensor imaging data and examined the relationship between fractional anisotropy of the external capsule and participants’ social desirability—our analysis revealed a positive association. As a second exploratory step, we examined the association between social desirability and white-matter microstructure throughout the whole brain. Our whole-brain analysis revealed associations within multiple major white-matter tracts, demonstrating that socially desirable behavior relies on connectivity between distributed brain regions.


Social desirability Impression management Self-presentation Reputation Diffusion tensor imaging 



We would like to thank Loreen Mamerow for assistance during data collection.


Funding for this research was provided by the Excellence Initiative of the German Research Foundation (DFG), “Languages of Emotion” [EXC302].

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None declared.


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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education and PsychologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Melbourne School of Psychological SciencesThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Advertising and Public RelationsMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Max Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany
  5. 5.Center for Cognitive Neuroscience BerlinFreie UniversitätBerlinGermany

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