Diagnostic value underlies asymmetric updating of impressions in the morality and ability domains

Peter Mende-Siedlecki, Sean G. Baron, Alexander Todorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


While positive behavioral information is diagnostic when evaluating a person's abilities, negative information is diagnostic when evaluating morality. Although social psychology has considered these two domains as orthogonal and distinct from one another, we demonstrate that this asymmetry in diagnosticity can be explained by a single parsimonious principle-the perceived frequency of behaviors in these domains. Less frequent behaviors (e.g., high ability and low morality) are weighed more heavily in evaluations. We show that this statistical principle of frequency-derived diagnosticity is evident in human participants at both behavioral and neural levels of analysis. Specifically, activity in right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex increased preferentially when participants updated impressions based on diagnostic behaviors, and further, activity in this region covaried parametrically with the perceived frequency of behaviors. Activity in left ventrolateral PFC, left inferior frontal gyrus, and left superior temporal sulcus showed similar patterns of diagnosticity and sensitivity, though additional analyses confirmed that these regions responded primarily to updates based on immoral behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19406-19415
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number50
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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