The impact of motivation on race-based impression formation


Affective biases toward racial out-group members, characterized by White perceivers’ negative evaluations of Black individuals, prevail in U.S. culture. Such affective associations have been found to guide race-based impression formation. Accordingly, individuals may strive to resolve inconsistencies when perceiving targets violating their expectations. The current study focuses on the impact of evaluative incongruence on the activity of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) — a brain region previously shown to support impression formation. When asking participants to form impressions of positively and negatively evaluated Black and White individuals, we found preferential dmPFC activity in response to individuals paired with information that violates race-based affective associations. Importantly, individual differences in internal motivation to respond without prejudice (IMS) were found to shape the extent to which dmPFC activity indexes the interactive effects of race and affective associations during impression formation. Specifically, preferential dmPFC activity in response to evaluatively incongruent targets (i.e., Black-positive & White-negative) was present among participants with lower, but not those with higher, levels of IMS. Implications and future directions are discussed in the context of dmPFC involvement in social cognition.