Implicitly Priming the Social Brain: Failure to Find Neural Effects

Powers, Katherine E.; Heatherton, Todd F.
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Humans have a fundamental need for social relationships. Rejection from social groups is especially detrimental, rendering the ability to detect threats to social relationships and respond in adaptive ways critical. Indeed, previous research has shown that experiencing social rejection alters the processing of subsequent social cues in a variety of socially affiliative and avoidant ways. Because social perception and cognition occurs spontaneously and automatically, detecting threats to social relationships may occur without conscious awareness or control. Here, we investigated the automaticity of social threat detection by examining how implicit primes affect neural responses to social stimuli. However, despite using a well-established implicit priming paradigm and large sample size, we failed to find any evidence that implicit primes induced changes at the neural level. That implicit primes influence behavior has been demonstrated repeatedly and across a variety of domains, and our goal is not to question these effects. Rather, we offer the present study as cautionary evidence that such a paradigm may not be amenable to scanning in an fMRI environment.


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