Normative social influences shape nearly every aspect of our lives, yet the biological processes mediating the impact of these social influences on behavior remain incompletely understood. In this Hypothesis, we outline a theoretical framework and an integrative research approach to the study of social influences on the brain and genetic moderators of such effects. First, we review neuroimaging evidence linking social influence and conformity to the brain's reward system. We next review neuroimaging evidence linking social punishment (exclusion) to brain systems involved in the experience of pain, as well as evidence linking exclusion to conformity. We suggest that genetic variants that increase sensitivity to social cues may predispose individuals to be more sensitive to either social rewards or punishments (or potentially both), which in turn increases conformity and susceptibility to normative social influences more broadly. To this end, we review evidence for genetic moderators of neurochemical responses in the brain, and suggest ways in which genes and pharmacology may modulate sensitivity to social influences. We conclude by proposing an integrative imaging genetics approach to the study of brain mediators and genetic modulators of a variety of social influences on human attitudes, beliefs, and actions.
Published in Volume 6, Issue 168