Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Eur J Neurosci. 2015 Oct;42(8):2534-45. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13038. Epub 2015 Sep 3

The attracting power of the gaze of politicians is modulated by the personality and ideological attitude of their voters: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Observing someone rapidly moving their eyes induces reflexive shifts of overt and covert attention in the onlooker. Previous studies have shown that this process can be modulated by the onlooker's personality, as well as by the social features of the person depicted in the cued face. Here, we investigated whether an individual's preference for social dominance orientation, in-group perceived similarity (PS), and political affiliation of the cued-face modulated neural activity within specific nodes of the social attention network. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants were requested to perform a gaze-following task to investigate whether the directional gaze of various Italian political personages might influence the oculomotor behaviour of in-group or out-group voters. After scanning, we acquired measures of PS in personality traits with each political personage and preference for social dominance orientation. Behavioural data showed that higher gaze interference for in-group than out-group political personages was predicted by a higher preference for social hierarchy. Higher blood oxygenation level-dependent activity in incongruent vs. congruent conditions was found in areas associated with orienting to socially salient events and monitoring response conflict, namely the left frontal eye field, right supramarginal gyrus, mid-cingulate cortex and left anterior insula. Interestingly, higher ratings of PS with the in-group and less preference for social hierarchy predicted increased activity in the left frontal eye field during distracting gaze movements of in-group as compared with out-group political personages. Our results suggest that neural activity in the social orienting circuit is modulated by higher-order social dimensions, such as in-group PS and individual differences in ideological attitudes.

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