We often change our behavior to conform to real or imagined group pressure. Social influence on our behavior has been extensively studied in social psychology, but its neural mechanisms have remained largely unknown. Here we demonstrate that the transient downregulation of the posterior medial frontal cortex by theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces conformity, as indicated by reduced conformal adjustments in line with group opinion. Both the extent and probability of conformal behavioral adjustments decreased significantly relative to a sham and a control stimulation over another brain area. The posterior part of the medial frontal cortex has previously been implicated in behavioral and attitudinal adjustments. Here, we provide the first interventional evidence of its critical role in social influence on human behavior.
There is increasing evidence that human perception is realized by a hierarchy of neural processes in which predictions sent backward from higher levels result in prediction errors that are fed forward from lower levels, to update the current model of the environment. Moreover, the precision of prediction errors is thought to be modulated by attention. Much of this evidence comes from paradigms in which a stimulus differs from that predicted by the recent history of other stimuli (generating a so-called “mismatch response”). There is less evidence from situations where a prediction is not fulfilled by any sensory input (an “omission” response). This situation arguably provides a more direct measure of “top-down” predictions in the absence of confounding “bottom-up” input. We applied Dynamic Causal Modeling of evoked electromagnetic responses recorded by EEG andMEGto an auditory paradigm in which we factorially crossed the presence versus absence of “bottom-up” stimuli with the presence versus absence of “top-down” attention. Model comparison revealed that both mismatch and omission responses were mediated by increased forward and backward connections, differing primarily in the driving input. In both responses, modeling results suggested that the presence of attention selectively modulated backward “prediction” connections. Our results provide new model-driven evidence of the pure top-down prediction signal posited in theories of hierarchical perception, and highlight the role of attentional precision in strengthening this prediction.