The neural basis of shared preference learning

Harry Farmer, Uri Hertz, Antonia F.De C. Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During our daily lives, we often learn about the similarity of the traits and preferences of others to our own and use that information during our social interactions. However, it is unclear how the brain represents similarity between the self and others. One possible mechanism is to track similarity to oneself regardless of the identity of the other (Similarity account); an alternative is to track each other person in terms of consistency of their choice similarity with respect to the choices they have made before (consistency account). Our study combined functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational modelling of reinforcement learning (RL) to investigate the neural processes that underlie learning about preference similarity. Participants chose which of two pieces of artwork they preferred and saw the choices of one agent who usually shared their preference and another agent who usually did not. We modelled neural activation with RL models based on the similarity and consistency accounts. Our results showed that activity in brain areas linked to reward and social cognition followed the consistency account. Our findings suggest that impressions of other people can be calculated in a person-specific manner, which assumes that each individual behaves consistently with their past choices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1061-1072
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


  • fMRI
  • prediction error
  • reinforcement learning
  • self
  • social cognition
  • Learning/physiology
  • Attitude
  • Humans
  • Brain/physiology
  • Male
  • Young Adult
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Algorithms
  • Social Behavior
  • Computer Simulation
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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