Human behaviour is affected by various forms of persuasion. The general persuasive effect of high expertise of the communicator, often referred to as ’expert power’, is well documented. We found that a single exposure to a combination of an expert and an object leads to a long-lasting positive effect on memory for and attitude towards the object. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we probed the neural processes predicting these behavioural effects. Expert context was associated with distributed left-lateralized brain activity in prefrontal and temporal cortices related to active semantic elaboration. Furthermore, experts enhanced subsequent memory effects in the medial temporal lobe (i.e. in hippocampus and parahippocampal gyrus) involved in memory formation. Experts also affected subsequent attitude effects in the caudate nucleus involved in trustful behaviour, reward processing and learning. These results may suggest that the persuasive effect of experts is mediated by modulation of caudate activity resulting in a re-evaluation of the object in terms of its perceived value. Results extend our view of the functional role of the dorsal striatum in social interaction and enable us to make the first steps toward a neuroscientific model of persuasion.
Humans often change their beliefs or behavior due to the behavior or opinions of others. This study explored, with the use of human event-related potentials (ERPs), whether social conformity is based on a general performance-monitoring mechanism. We tested the hypothesis that conflicts with a normative group opinion evoke a feedback-related negativity (FRN) often associated with performance monitoring and subsequent adjustment of behavior. The experimental results show that individual judgments of facial attractiveness were adjusted in line with a normative group opinion. A mismatch between individual and group opinions triggered a frontocentral negative deflection with the maximum at 200 ms, similar to FRN. Overall, a conflict with a normative group opinion triggered a cascade of neuronal responses: from an earlier FRN response reflecting a conflict with the normative opinion to a later ERP component (peaking at 380 ms) reflecting a conforming behavioral adjustment. These results add to the growing literature on neuronal mechanisms of social influence by disentangling the conflict-monitoring signal in response to the perceived violation of social norms and the neural signal of a conforming behavioral adjustment.