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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012 Mar 5;367(1589):744-53. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0300.

Race and reputation: perceived racial group trustworthiness influences the neural correlates of trust decisions.

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Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Decisions to trust people with whom we have no personal history can be based on their social reputation-a product of what we can observe about them (their appearance, social group membership, etc.)-and our own beliefs. The striatum and amygdala have been identified as regions of the brain involved in trust decisions and trustworthiness estimation, respectively. However, it is unknown whether social reputation based on group membership modulates the involvement of these regions during trust decisions. To investigate this, we examined blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) activity while participants completed a series of single-shot trust game interactions with real partners of varying races. At the time of choice, baseline BOLD responses in the striatum correlated with individuals' trust bias-that is, the overall disparity in decisions to trust Black versus White partners. BOLD signal in the striatum was higher when deciding to trust partners from the race group that the individual participant considered less trustworthy overall. In contrast, activation of the amygdala showed greater BOLD responses to Black versus White partners that scaled with the amount invested. These results suggest that the amygdala may represent emotionally relevant social group information as a subset of the general detection function it serves, whereas the striatum is involved in representing race-based reputations that shape trust decisions.

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