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Published April 1, 2018 | Published
Journal Article Open

Neural substrates of social facilitation effects on incentive-based performance


Throughout our lives we must perform tasks while being observed by others. Previous studies have shown that the presence of an audience can cause increases in an individual's performance as compared to when they are not being observed—a phenomenon called 'social facilitation'. However, the neural mechanisms underlying this effect, in the context of skilled-task performance for monetary incentives, are not well understood. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor brain activity while healthy human participants performed a skilled-task during conditions in which they were paid based on their performance and observed and not observed by an audience. We found that during social facilitation, social signals represented in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) enhanced reward value computations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). We also found that functional connectivity between dmPFC and ventral striatum was enhanced when participants exhibited social facilitation effects, indicative of a means by which social signals serve to modulate brain regions involved in regulating behavioral motivation. These findings illustrate how neural processing of social judgments gives rise to the enhanced motivational state that results in social facilitation of incentive-based performance.

Additional Information

© 2018 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Revision Received: 22 February 2018; Accepted: 19 March 2018; Published: 10 April 2018. This study was funded by grant NSF 1062703 from the National Science Foundation to J.P.O.D. V.S.C. was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number K12HD073945. R.A. was supported by a fellowship from the Nakajima Foundation. Conflict of interest. None declared.

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