The neural origins of superficial and individuated judgments about ingroup and outgroup members

Jonathan B. Freeman, Daniela Schiller, Nicholas O. Rule, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We often form impressions of others based on superficial information, such as a mere glimpse of their face. Given the opportunity to get to know someone, however, our judgments are allowed to become more individuated. The neural origins of these two types of social judgment remain unknown. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to dissociate the neural mechanisms underlying superficial and individuated judgments. Given behavioral evidence demonstrating impairments in individuating others outside one's racial group, we additionally examined whether these neural mechanisms are race-selective. Superficial judgments recruited the amygdala. Individuated judgments engaged a cortical network implicated in mentalizing and theory of mind. One component of this mentalizing network showed selectivity to individuated judgments, but exclusively for targets of one's own race. The findings reveal the distinct - and race-selective - neural bases of our everyday superficial and individuated judgments of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-159
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Amygdala
  • Face perception
  • Individuation
  • Mentalizing
  • Social judgment
  • Theory of mind
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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