Scientists Identify the Neural Circuitry of First Impressions


Neuroscientists at New York University and Harvard University have identified the neural systems involved in forming first impressions of others. The findings, which show how we encode social information and then evaluate it in making these initial judgments, are reported in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Neuroscientists at New York University and Harvard University have identified the neural systems involved in forming first impressions of others. The findings, which show how we encode social information and then evaluate it in making these initial judgments, are reported in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Making sense of others in a social interaction is not easy-each new person we meet may be a source of ambiguous and complex information. However, when encountering someone for the first time, we are often quick to judge whether we like that person or not. In fact, previous research has shown that people make relatively accurate and persistent evaluations based on rapid observations of even less than half a minute.

The Nature Neuroscience study sought to investigate the brain mechanisms that give rise to impressions formed immediately after meeting a new person. It was conducted in the laboratory of Elizabeth Phelps, an NYU professor of psychology and neuroscience and one of the co-authors. The study’s lead author was Daniela Schiller, a post-doctoral fellow in NYU’s Department of Psychology and its Center for Neural Science. The other co-authors were: Jonathan Freeman, a former NYU undergraduate who is currently a doctoral candidate at Tufts University; James Mitchell, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology; and James Uleman, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology.

To explore the process of first impression formation, the researchers designed an experiment in which they examined the brain activity when these participants made initial evaluations of fictional indivi 500

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