Reinforcement learning signal predicts social conformity

VA Klucharev, KA (Kaisa) Hytonen, M Rijpkema, Ale Smidts, G Fernandez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

363 Citations (Scopus)


We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behavior. However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with principles of reinforcement learning. We found that individual judgments of facial attractiveness are adjusted in line with group opinion. Conflict with group opinion triggered a neuronal response in the rostral cingulate zone and the ventral striatum similar to the “prediction error” signal suggested by neuroscientific models of reinforcement learning. The amplitude of the conflict-related signal predicted subsequent conforming behavioral adjustments. Furthermore, the individual amplitude of the conflict-related signal in the ventral striatum correlated with differences in conforming behavior across subjects. These findings provide evidence that social group norms evoke conformity via learning mechanisms reflected in the activity of the rostral cingulate zone and ventral striatum.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-151
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


Dive into the research topics of 'Reinforcement learning signal predicts social conformity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this