We used the five weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election as a backdrop to examine the ways that the brain processes attitudes and beliefs under different circumstances. We examined individual differences in personal issue importance and trait perspective-taking, as well as the temporal context in which attitude representation took place (i.e. number of days until the election). Finally, we examined the extent to which similar or dissimilar processes were recruited when considering the attitudes of political ingroup and outgroup candidates. Brain regions involved in social cognition and theory of mind, and to a lesser extent the limbic system, were modulated by these factors. Higher issue importance led to greater recruitment of neural regions involved in social cognition, across target perspectives. Higher trait perspective-taking was also associated with greater recruitment of several regions involved in social cognition, but differed depending on target perspective; greater activity was observed in prefrontal regions associated with social cognition when considering the perspective of one's own candidate compared with the opponent, and this effect was amplified closer to the election. Taken together, these results highlight ways in which ability and motivational relevance modulate socio-affective processing of the attitudes of others.
Published in Volume 367, Issue 1589, pages 731-743