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Published November 7, 2012 | Published
Journal Article Open

Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex Mediates Rapid Evaluations Predicting the Outcome of Romantic Interactions


Humans frequently make real-world decisions based on rapid evaluations of minimal information; for example, should we talk to an attractive stranger at a party? Little is known, however, about how the brain makes rapid evaluations with real and immediate social consequences. To address this question, we scanned participants with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed photos of individuals that they subsequently met at real-life "speed-dating" events. Neural activity in two areas of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), paracingulate cortex, and rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC) was predictive of whether each individual would be ultimately pursued for a romantic relationship or rejected. Activity in these areas was attributable to two distinct components of romantic evaluation: either consensus judgments about physical beauty (paracingulate cortex) or individualized preferences based on a partner's perceived personality (RMPFC). These data identify novel computational roles for these regions of the DMPFC in even very rapid social evaluations. Even a first glance, then, can accurately predict romantic desire, but that glance involves a mix of physical and psychological judgments that depend on specific regions of DMPFC.

Additional Information

© 2012 the authors. Received May 24, 2012; revised July 28, 2012; accepted Aug. 25, 2012. This work was supported by an Irish Research Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology fellowship to J.C.C., a Wellcome Trust project grant, and a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant to J.P.O. We gratefully acknowledge technical assistance from Sojo Joseph and research assistance from Jamie Gallagher, Betsy Carroll, and the Science Gallery. Author contributions: J.C.C. and J.P.O. designed research; J.C.C., S.D., and T.F. performed research; J.C.C., S.D., T.F., and J.P.O. analyzed data; J.C.C. and J.P.O. wrote the paper.

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