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Like or dislike? Brain scans reveal source of initial preferences

3228273137_020ba1b3c1_oJust seconds into an interview with a potential babysitter, I had already formed a slightly unfavorable opinion. She had excellent reviews — five stars across the board. She was polite and paid attention to my baby. Why didn't I like her?

Well, I may not consciously know, but perhaps the answer lies deep in my brain, new research from Stanford's Department of Psychology suggests.

A team led by Jeanne Tsai, PhD, associate professor of psychology, showed volunteers faces that varied by gender, ethnicity and emotion and monitored their reactions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a recent Stanford News article details:

In the study, Tsai and her colleagues examined whether cultural values could drive neural responses and preferences for different positive facial expressions – like excited versus calm faces...

"Within cultures, European Americans responded similarly to excited and calm faces, but Chinese showed greater activity in the ventral striatum in response to calm versus excited expressions," Tsai said.

The ventral striatum is part of the brain involved in emotional responses, particularly those related to the anticipation of pleasure. "This pattern held regardless of the ethnicity or gender of the face," Tsai added.

This finding reflects the cultural preference in China for calm expressions, Tsai said, and it could have implications for employment decisions as well as mate selection.

Previously: Hidden memories: A bit of coaching allows subjects to cloak memories from fMRI detector, Thinking about "culture" as part of global well-being and From phrenology to neuroimaging: New finding bolsters theory about how brain operates
Photo by Dar'ya Sip

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