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Published September 2014 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

The Role of the Posterior Temporal and Medial Prefrontal Cortices in Mediating Learning from Romantic Interest and Rejection


Romantic interest or rejection can be powerful incentives not merely for their emotional impact, but for their potential to transform, in a single interaction, what we think we know about another person—or ourselves. Little is known, though, about how the brain computes expectations for, and learns from, real-world romantic signals. In a novel "speed-dating" paradigm, we had participants meet potential romantic partners in a series of 5-min "dates," and decide whether they would be interested in seeing each partner again. Afterward, participants were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they were told, for the first time, whether that partner was interested in them or rejected them. Expressions of interest and rejection activated regions previously associated with "mentalizing," including the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC); while pSTS responded to differences from the participant's own decision, RMPFC responded to prediction errors from a reinforcement-learning model of personal desirability. Responses in affective regions were also highly sensitive to participants' expectations. Far from being inscrutable, then, responses to romantic expressions seem to involve a quantitative learning process, rooted in distinct sources of expectations, and encoded in neural networks that process both affective value and social beliefs.

Additional Information

© The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press. First published online: April 18, 2013. This work was supported by an Irish Research Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology Fellowship to J.C.C., a Wellcome Trust project grant (WT087388AIA), and a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to J.O.D. The authors gratefully acknowledge technical assistance from Sojo Joseph and research assistance from Jamie Gallagher, Betsy Carroll, and the Science Gallery. Conflict of Interest: None declared.

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August 22, 2023
October 18, 2023