Humans frequently make real-world decisions based on rapid evaluations of minimal information; for example, should we talk to an attractive stranger at a party? Little is known, however, about how the brain makes rapid evaluations with real and immediate social consequences. To address this question, we scanned participants with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed photos of individuals that they subsequently met at real-life “speed-dating” events. Neural activity in two areas of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), paracingulate cortex, and rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC) was predictive of whether each individual would be ultimately pursued for a romantic relationship or rejected. Activity in these areas was attributable to two distinct components of romantic evaluation: either consensus judgments about physical beauty (paracingulate cortex) or individualized preferences based on a partner's perceived personality (RMPFC). These data identify novel computational roles for these regions of the DMPFC in even very rapid social evaluations. Even a first glance, then, can accurately predict romantic desire, but that glance involves a mix of physical and psychological judgments that depend on specific regions of DMPFC.
Neural predictors of subsequent decision compared with areas mediating judgments of physical attractiveness. A, Brain regions showing greater responses at the time of first viewing for faces of individuals that are subsequently (after speed dating) selected as a potential romantic partner (“pursued”), compared with those who were not (“rejected”). Paracingulate cortex (circled) is the only activated region that significantly independently correlates with subsequent decision in a multiple regression including all activated regions. B, Brain regions positively correlating with subjective ratings of physical attractiveness for each partner (Att). C, Overlap between brain regions related to decision and those related to attractiveness, showing substantial overlap between these variables in the paracingulate cortex. Color bars indicate t statistic. Coordinates in ICBM/MNI space.