Researchers find a brain link between affective understanding and interpersonal attraction

April 5, 2016 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with members from a large number of institutions in Germany has conducted a study that has revealed more about the way interpersonal attraction works in the brain. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes two experiments they conducted with volunteers, their results and what they believe was revealed about the nature of the mechanism of attraction between people.

Most everyone has experienced near instant to someone else, whether of a social or sexual nature, but few are able to pin down exactly why they felt that attraction. Based on two experiments they conducted with human volunteers, the researchers suggest it may have to do with matching .

To learn more about attraction, the researchers ran two experiments, the first consisted of showing 19 male and 21 female volunteers, videos of six different women as they experienced fear or sadness. The volunteers were asked to choose which emotion was being shown, and then to mark down how confident they were in their choice. To gauge how much of an attraction they volunteers felt for the women in the videos, they were asked to enlarge a picture of the woman both before and after seeing her in the video—each was also asked to answer questions about each woman, such as how much they would like to meet her in real life, if she would understand them, etc.

The second experiment was run with a different set of volunteers who were also asked to watch the woman in the videos, but the second group did so while undergoing an fMRI imaging—the researchers were specifically looking for activity in the part of the brain known to be associated with rewards.

The final phase of the experiment involved combining data from both experiments to see if any patterns might emerge. The researchers report that most of the volunteers were able to identify the emotions being portrayed, and the more confident they felt they were able to identify the correct emotion, the more attracted to her they felt. This was confirmed in the fMRI scans—reward centers in the ' brains lit up more when watching women they felt they could read their emotions better.

The researchers propose that their results suggest that in addition to , people are attracted to other people due to their own feelings of similarity to another person, which gives them a feeling of understanding, or connectedness.

Explore further: Brain scans reveal why we are more likely to take risks if we see others doing so

More information: A neural link between affective understanding and interpersonal attraction, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1516191113

Abstract
Being able to comprehend another person's intentions and emotions is essential for successful social interaction. However, it is currently unknown whether the human brain possesses a neural mechanism that attracts people to others whose mental states they can easily understand. Here we show that the degree to which a person feels attracted to another person can change while they observe the other's affective behavior, and that these changes depend on the observer's confidence in having correctly understood the other's affective state. At the neural level, changes in interpersonal attraction were predicted by activity in the reward system of the observer's brain. Importantly, these effects were specific to individual observer–target pairs and could not be explained by a target's general attractiveness or expressivity. Furthermore, using multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA), we found that neural activity in the reward system of the observer's brain varied as a function of how well the target's affective behavior matched the observer's neural representation of the underlying affective state: The greater the match, the larger the brain's intrinsic reward signal. Taken together, these findings provide evidence that reward-related neural activity during social encounters signals how well an individual's "neural vocabulary" is suited to infer another person's affective state, and that this intrinsic reward might be a source of changes in interpersonal attraction.

Related Stories

Brain scans reveal why we are more likely to take risks if we see others doing so

March 22, 2016
(Medical Xpress)—A combined team of researchers from the University of Melbourne and the California Institute of Technology has located a part of the brain involved in behavior contagion, by conducting a study involving ...

Study suggests regulation of empathy for pain is grounded in same brain mechanism as real pain

September 29, 2015
(Medical Xpress)—A team of European researchers has found evidence that supports a theory that suggests the mechanism in the brain that controls empathy for others experiencing pain is grounded in the same mechanism that ...

Study suggests poker 'arms' better tell than poker 'face'

September 19, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Tufts University has found that college students are better able to gauge the confidence a poker player has in his or her hand watching their arm movements versus studying their ...

Study shows men better at reading emotions in other men than in women

April 15, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at LWL-University Hospital in Bochum, Germany have found that male volunteers looking at photographs of human eyes were better at guessing the "mood" of the person in the picture, if the person ...

Study shows link between teen impatience and neural development in the brain

June 23, 2015
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with members from the U.S. and Germany has found a connection between neural development in one part of the brain and teen impatience. In their paper published in Proceedings of the ...

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

LaPortaMA
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2016
The brain is a tool, like an antenna.
LaPortaMA
not rated yet Apr 06, 2016
Do you not like my answer's style, or do you disagree?
Voting on comments is counterproductive.
But for the most part, so is this website.
LaPortaMA
not rated yet Apr 06, 2016
Do you not like my answer's style, or do you disagree?
Voting on comments is counterproductive.
But for the most part, so is this website.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.