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Neuroimage. 2005 May 15;26(1):251-7.

Forming impressions of people versus inanimate objects: social-cognitive processing in the medial prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Moore Hall, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Recent neuroimaging research has linked the task of forming a "person impression" to a distinct pattern of neural activation that includes dorsal regions of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Although this result suggests the distinctiveness of social cognition - the processes that support inferences about the psychological aspects of other people - it remains unclear whether mPFC contributions to this impression formation task were person specific or if they would extend to other stimulus targets. To address this unresolved issue, participants in the current study underwent fMRI scanning while performing impression formation or a control task for two types of target: other people and inanimate objects. Specifically, participants were asked to use experimentally-provided information either to form an impression of a person or an object or to intentionally encode the sequence in which the information was presented. Results demonstrated that activation in an extensive region of dorsal mPFC was greater for impression formation of other people than for all other trial types, suggesting that this region specifically indexes the social-cognitive aspects of impression formation (i.e., understanding the psychological characteristics of another mental agent). These findings underscore the extent to which social cognition relies on distinct neural mechanisms.

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