Psychology Magazine

Brain Activity Can Reveal Whom Someone is Thinking About.

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds

A collaboration between five different research centers shows that in predicting or imagining the behavior of others based on their personality the brain relys on the same network of regions that support other forms of mental simulation, such as remembering the past and planning for the future:

The behaviors of other people are often central to envisioning the future. The ability to accurately predict the thoughts and actions of others is essential for successful social interactions, with far-reaching consequences. Despite its importance, little is known about how the brain represents people in order to predict behavior. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, participants learned the unique personality of 4 protagonists and imagined how each would behave in different scenarios. The protagonists' personalities were composed of 2 traits: Agreeableness and Extraversion. Which protagonist was being imagined was accurately inferred based solely on activity patterns in the medial prefrontal cortex using multivariate pattern classification, providing novel evidence that brain activity can reveal whom someone is thinking about. Lateral temporal and posterior cingulate cortex discriminated between different degrees of agreeableness and extraversion, respectively. Functional connectivity analysis confirmed that regions associated with trait-processing and individual identities were functionally coupled. Activity during the imagination task, and revealed by functional connectivity, was consistent with the default network. Our results suggest that distinct regions code for personality traits, and that the brain combines these traits to represent individuals. The brain then uses this “personality model” to predict the behavior of others in novel situations.

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