PNAS: Neural Precursors of Future Liking and its Mutual Reciprocation by Zerubavel, Noam, Mark Hoffman, Adam Reich, Kevin Ochsner and Peter Bearman

Project: Summer for Respect

Full Article

Why do certain group members end up liking each other more than others? How does affective reciprocity arise in human groups? The prediction of interpersonal sentiment has been a long-standing pursuit in the social sciences. We combined fMRI and longitudinal social network data to test whether newly acquainted group members’ reward-related neural responses to images of one another’s faces predict their future interpersonal sentiment, even many months later. Specifically, we analyze associations between relationship-specific valuation activity and relationship-specific future liking. We found that one’s own future (T2) liking of a particular group member is predicted jointly by actor’s initial (T1) neural valuation of partner and by that partner’s initial (T1) neural valuation of actor. These actor and partner effects exhibited equivalent predictive strength and were robust when statistically controlling for each other, both individuals’ initial liking, and other potential drivers of liking. Behavioral findings indicated that liking was initially unreciprocated at T1 yet became strongly reciprocated by T2. The emergence of affective reciprocity was partly explained by the reciprocal pathways linking dyad members’ T1 neural data both to their own and to each other’s T2 liking outcomes. These findings elucidate interpersonal brain mechanisms that define how we ultimately end up liking particular interaction partners, how group members’ initially idiosyncratic sentiments become reciprocated, and more broadly, how dyads evolve. This study advances a flexible framework for researching the neural foundations of interpersonal sentiments and social relations that—conceptually, methodologically, and statistically—emphasizes group members’ neural interdependence.