Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Sci Rep. 2019 Mar 18;9(1):4691. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-40447-3

An fMRI study on the neural correlates of social conformity to a sexual minority

Social conformity refers to the tendency to align one's own behaviors, beliefs and values to those of others. Little is known about social influence coming from a minority group. To test whether social pressure from sexual minorities triggers avoidance-motivated behaviors, we explored how being influenced by the preferences of gay peers modifies the behavioral and neural reactivity of individuals defined as in- vs. out- groups on the basis of sexual orientation. To this aim, we combined fMRI with a social conformity paradigm in which heterosexual and gay/bisexual (hereafter non-exclusively heterosexual, NEH) individuals provided with male body attractiveness ratings by a fictitious group of gay students may or may not alter their previous rating and may or may not conform to the mean. Behaviorally, conformity to the minority preference was found in in-group NEH more than in out-group heterosexuals. Analysis of BOLD signal showed that social pressure brought about increased brain activity in frontal and parietal regions associated with the detection of social conflict. These results show that members of a sexual majority group display a smaller level of conformity when a sexual minority group exerts social influence. However, the neural correlates of this modulation are yet to be clarified.

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