Social Perception.

Social Status Inferences

Neural substrates of social status inference: Role of medial prefrontal cortex and superior temporal sulcus. Mason, M.F., Magee, J., & Fiske, S. (2014). Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26, 1131-1140. (PDF).

The negotiation of social order is intimately connected to the capacity to infer and track status relationships. Despite the foundational role of status in social cognition, we know little about how the brain constructs status from social interactions that display it. While emerging cognitive neuroscience reveals that status judgments depend on the intraparietal sulcus, a brain region that supports the comparison of targets along a quantitative continuum, we present evidence that status judgments do not necessarily reduce to ranking targets along a quantitative continuum. The process of judging status also fits a social-interdependence analysis. Consistent with third-party perceivers judging status by inferring whose goals are dictating the terms of the interaction and who is subordinating their desires to whom, status judgments were associated with increased recruitment of medial prefrontal cortex and superior temporal sulcus, brain regions implicated in mental state inference.


Social Perception.

Precise offers are potent anchors.


Precise offers are potent anchors: Conciliatory counteroffers and attributions of knowledge in negotiations. Mason, M. F., Lee, A. J., Wiley, E. A. & Ames, D .R. (2013). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 759-763. (PDF).

People habitually use round prices as first offers in negotiations. We test whether the specificity with which a first offer is expressed has appreciable effects on first-offer recipients’ perceptions and strategic choices. Studies 1a–d establish that first-offer recipients make greater counteroffer adjustments to round versus precise offers. Study 2 demonstrates this phenomenon in an interactive, strategic exchange. Study 3 shows that negotiators who make precise first offers are assumed to be more informed than negotiators who make round first offers and that this perception partially mediates the effect of first-offer precision on recipient adjustments. First-offer recipients appear to make assumptions about their counterpart’s language choices and infer meanings that are not explicitly conveyed. Precise numerical expressions imply a greater level of knowledge than round expressions and are therefore assumed by recipients to be more informative of the true value of the good being negotiated.

Mental Regulation.

Driver of discontent or escape vehicle.

Driver of discontent or escape vehicle: The affective consequences of mindwandering. Mason, M.F., Brown, K., Mar, R. & Smallwood, J. (2013). Frontiers in Neuroscience, Perception. (PDF).

(A,B) Results of the “mindwander > concentrate” contrast, p  suppress” contrast, p < 0.005; k = 10 superimposed. Results are displayed on the MNI single-subject TI anatomical image. nACC, nucleus accumben

An emerging body of evidence suggests that our penchant for entertaining thoughts that are unrelated to ongoing activities might be a detriment to our emotional wellbeing. In light of this evidence, researchers have posited that mindwandering is a cause rather than a manifestation of discontent. We review the evidence in support of this viewpoint. We then consider this evidence in a broader context—with regards to mindwandering’s antecedents, respecting the observation that people frequently find pleasure in their off-task moments, and in light of the lay beliefs people hold about its causes. We report data from two studies that speak to the potential challenges of establishing a definitive causal link between mindwandering and wellbeing.

First, to advance the idea that mindwandering can convey affective benefits, in spite of negative feelings about mental disengagement, we examined cortical responses in a unique individual who presents with a long history of excessive—but enjoyable—task-irrelevant thinking. Second, to explore the idea that lay beliefs about mindwandering may substantially color the affective responses people have to a mindwandering episode, we surveyed people’s beliefs about mindwandering’s antecedents and related them to the affective reactions people anticipated to off-task moments.

Our hope is to provide a nuanced evaluation of the available evidence for the assertion that mindwandering causes unhappiness, and to provide a clear direction forward to better evaluate this possibility.

Results of resting-state scan analysis revealed that the signal in the patient’s nucleus accumbens (nACC) fluctuated with four default network regions: the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), the posterior cingulate cortex (pCC), and bilateral supramarginal gyri (SMG). Panel (A) depicts the seed regions used to generate the resting-state maps. Panel (B) depicts results from a sagittal orientation. Panel (C) depicts results from an axial orientation. Results displayed on participant’s T1 anatomical image


Mental Regulation.

Racial Paralysis

An fMRI investigation of Racial Paralysis.  Norton, M.I., Mason, M.F., Vandello, J.A., Biga, A. & Dyer, R. (2013). Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 8, 387-393 (PDF).

Consistent with a long history of research that addresses people’s tendency to avoid decisions that involve choice sets with alternatives of similar (un)attractiveness, here we show how mental conflict leads people to avoid decisions that involve cross-race comparisons. This set of findings is important because it highlights how the lack of practical guidance entailed in egalitarian social norms (e.g., “Do not notice race.”) generates mental conflict, which shapes behavior in meaningful and sometimes problematic ways.

Social Perception.

The powerful size others down.

The powerful size others down: The link between power and estimates of others’ size. Yap, A., Mason, M.F. & Ames, D.R. (2013). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 591-594. (PDF).


The current research examines the extent to which visual perception is distorted by one’s experience of power. Specifically, does power distort impressions of another person’s physical size? Two experiments found that participants induced to feel powerful through episodic primes (Study 1) and legitimate leadership role manipulations (Study 2) systematically underestimated the size of a target, and participants induced to feel powerless systematically overestimated the size of the target. These results emerged whether the target person was in a photograph or face-to-face. These findings suggest that the experience of powerfulness and powerlessness leads people to misperceive complementary power cues in others, and in doing so, distorts what they actually see. We discuss how these findings elucidate the interplay between how psychological states influence perception, and through this, facilitate social coordination.




Social Perception.

Culture, Attribution and Automaticity.

Culture, Attribution and Automaticity: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience View. Mason, M.F. & Morris, M. (2010). Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, 5, 292-306. (PDF). SCAN_2010_2

A fundamental challenge facing social perceivers is identifying the cause underlying other people’s behavior. Evidence indicates that East Asian perceivers are more likely than Western perceivers to reference the social context when attributing a cause to a target person’s actions. One outstanding question is whether this reflects a culture’s influence on automatic or on controlled components of causal attribution. After reviewing behavioral evidence that culture can shape automatic mental processes as well as controlled reasoning, we discuss the evidence in favor of cultural differences in automatic and controlled components of causal attribution more specifically. We contend that insights emerging from social cognitive neuroscience research can inform this debate. After introducing an attribution framework popular among social neuroscientists, we consider findings relevant to the automaticity of attribution, before speculating how one could use a social neuroscience approach to clarify whether culture affects automatic, controlled or both types of attribution processes.


As illustrated, East Asians may differ from Westerners in having (i) greater situational correction, (ii) more automatized situational correction and (iii) greater likelihood of anchoring on situational causes.