Exploring the neural correlates of social stereotyping.
ABSTRACT Judging people on the basis of cultural stereotypes is a ubiquitous facet of daily life, yet little is known about how this fundamental inferential strategy is implemented in the brain. Using fMRI, we measured neural activity while participants made judgments about the likely actor (i.e., person-focus) and location (i.e., place-focus) of a series of activities, some of which were associated with prevailing gender stereotypes. Results revealed that stereotyping was underpinned by activity in areas associated with evaluative processing (e.g., ventral medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala) and the representation of action knowledge (e.g., supramarginal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus). In addition, activity accompanying stereotypic judgments was correlated with the strength of participants' explicit and implicit gender stereotypes. These findings elucidate how stereotyping fits within the neuroscience of person understanding.
- SourceAvailable from: Tom Johnstone[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Here we show inverse fMRI activation patterns in amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) depending upon whether subjects interpreted surprised facial expressions positively or negatively. More negative interpretations of surprised faces were associated with greater signal changes in the right ventral amygdala, while more positive interpretations were associated with greater signal changes in the ventral mPFC. Accordingly, signal change within these two areas was inversely correlated. Thus, individual differences in the judgment of surprised faces are related to a systematic inverse relationship between amygdala and mPFC activity, a circuitry that the animal literature suggests is critical to the assessment of stimuli that predict potential positive vs negative outcomes.Neuroreport 01/2004; 14(18):2317-22. · 1.40 Impact Factor
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The malleability of stereotyping matters in social psychology and in society. Previous work indicates rapid amygdala and cognitive responses to racial out-groups, leading some researchers to view these responses as inevitable. In this study, the methods of social-cognitive neuroscience were used to investigate how social goals control prejudiced responses. Participants viewed photographs of unfamiliar Black and White faces, under each of three social goals: social categorization (by age), social individuation (vegetable preference), and simple visual inspection (detecting a dot). One study recorded brain activity in the amygdala using functional magnetic resonance imaging, and another measured cognitive activation of stereotypes by lexical priming. Neither response to photos of the racial out-group was inevitable; instead, both responses depended on perceivers' current social-cognitive goal.Psychological Science 02/2005; 16(1):56-63. · 4.43 Impact Factor
Article: The neural basis of mentalizing.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Mentalizing refers to our ability to read the mental states of other agents and engages many neural processes. The brain's mirror system allows us to share the emotions of others. Through perspective taking, we can infer what a person currently believes about the world given their point of view. Finally, the human brain has the unique ability to represent the mental states of the self and the other and the relationship between these mental states, making possible the communication of ideas.Neuron 06/2006; 50(4):531-4. · 15.77 Impact Factor
Exploring the Neural Correlates of Social Stereotyping
Susanne Quadflieg1, David J. Turk1, Gordon D. Waiter1,
Jason P. Mitchell2, Adrianna C. Jenkins2, and C. Neil Macrae1
& Judging people on the basis of cultural stereotypes is a
ubiquitous facet of daily life, yet little is known about how
this fundamental inferential strategy is implemented in the
brain. Using fMRI, we measured neural activity while partic-
ipants made judgments about the likely actor (i.e., person-
focus) and location (i.e., place-focus) of a series of activities,
some of which were associated with prevailing gender stereo-
types. Results revealed that stereotyping was underpinned by
activity in areas associated with evaluative processing (e.g.,
ventral medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala) and the represen-
tation of action knowledge (e.g., supramarginal gyrus, middle
temporal gyrus). In addition, activity accompanying stereo-
typic judgments was correlated with the strength of partic-
ipants’ explicit and implicit gender stereotypes. These findings
elucidate how stereotyping fits within the neuroscience of per-
son understanding. &
As consensual beliefs about individuals based on knowl-
edge of the groups to which they belong, stereotypes are
engrained in the very fabric of society (Kunda, 1999;
Fiske, 1998; Hilton & von Hippel, 1996; Fiske & Neuberg,
1990). Acquired during early childhood and reinforced
throughout adult life (Hill & Flom, 2007; Poulin-Dubois,
Serbin, Eichstedt, Sen, & Beissel, 2002), stereotypes shape
thought and action in innumerable ways. In a world of
daunting interpersonal complexity, the primary benefit
of stereotyping is that it offers apparent insights into
the personalities and deeds of others without the cum-
bersome necessity of getting to know them (Macrae &
Bodenhausen, 2000). For example, whereas women are
thought to be nurturing and to be found cooking and
gossiping, emotionally repressed men are believed to
enjoy repairing cars and guzzling beer. While clearly sim-
plifying the process of person understanding (hence,
social interaction), stereotypical thinking is not without
its problems. Through indiscriminate application, stereo-
typing promotes judgmental inaccuracy, societal inequal-
ity, and intergroup conflict (Fiske, 1998).
Recognizing the impact that stereotyping exerts on
contemporary life, researchers have sought to identify
the neural underpinnings of this core psychological pro-
cess (e.g.,Cunningham & Johnson, 2007; Eberhardt,2005;
Phelps & Thomas, 2003). In this respect, much of what is
currently known about the neural circuitry supporting
stereotyping has been garnered from studies exploring
face processing, specifically the perception of outgroup
members (Kim et al., 2006; Lieberman, Hariri, Jarcho,
Eisenberger, & Bookheimer, 2005; Wheeler & Fiske,
2005; Cunningham et al., 2004; Richeson et al., 2003;
Golby, Gabrieli, Chiao, & Eberhardt, 2001; Hart et al.,
2000; Phelps et al., 2000). Most interestingly, this work
has revealed that the increased amygdala activity elicited
by outgroup faces is correlated with the strength of
people’s evaluative race-based associations (Cunningham
et al., 2004; Phelps et al., 2000). This effect is assumed to
reflect a primary product of cultural socialization, beliefs
about the emotional significance of racial groups. What
research to date has not yet considered, however, are the
neuroanatomical structures that subserve the expression
of stereotypical thinking. That is, little is known about
the neural structures that support the defining feature of
the stereotyping process, the generation of culturally pro-
scribed judgments about prominent social groups (Fiske,
1998). Accordingly, in the context of gender stereo-
typing, we explored this important issue in the current
Consideration of the neuroanatomy of social cognition
has led to the identification of a putative social–cognition
temporo-parietal junction [TPJ], superior temporal sul-
cus [STS], and amygdala), with components of this net-
work supporting core aspects of person construal (e.g.,
Amodio & Frith, 2006; Frith & Frith, 2006; Adolphs, 2001,
2003; Brothers, 1990). There is preliminary evidence from
neuroimaging and patient studies to suggest that the
MPFC may play a prominent role in the stereotyping pro-
cess. For example, judging a person about whom only
knowledge of his political affiliation is available (i.e., a
condition that should precipitate stereotyping) and com-
pleting implicit group-based associations (i.e., race and
1University of Aberdeen, UK,2Harvard University
D 2008 Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21:8, pp. 1560–1570
gender) in a stereotypic manner have both been shown
to increase activity in the MPFC (Knutson, Mah, Manly, &
lesions to the MPFC have been associated with the di-
minished accessibility of implicit gender-based beliefs
(Milne & Grafman, 2001). Taken together, these findings
suggest that the MPFC may play a contributory role in
the generation of stereotype-based judgments.
As stereotyping entails the coordinated operation of
several distinct subprocesses, activity is likely to extend
beyond the prefrontal cortex. In particular, consider-
ation should be given to the content of stereotype-based
judgments and how this may impact the associated neu-
ral circuitry (Martin, 2007). As a case in point, consider
the various forms that gender stereotyping can take.
Stereotyped judgments about the sexes typically tap
knowledge pertaining to the appearance (e.g., women
wear skirts, men have short hair), preferred activities
(e.g., women bake cakes, men play poker), and likely
personalities (e.g., men are aggressive, untidy, and am-
bitious; women are timid, emotional, and patient) of
women and men (Crawford, Leynes, Mayhorn, & Bink,
2004). Given that semantic knowledge about objects
(including people) is represented in a distributed net-
work of domain-specific cortical areas (see Humphreys
& Forde, 2001; Tyler & Moss, 2001), this then suggests
that visual, action, and conceptual stereotypes should
elicit activity in the relevant parts of this network
(Martin, 2007). For example, whereas visual stereo-
typing (i.e., ‘‘visual form’’ knowledge) should be accom-
panied by activity in the ventral temporal cortex (e.g.,
Ishai, Ungerleider, Martin, & Haxby, 2000; O’Craven &
Kanwisher, 2000), action stereotyping (i.e., ‘‘action’’
knowledge) should yield activity in regions within the
posterior temporal and parietal cortices (Kellenbach,
Brett, & Patterson, 2003; Damasio et al., 2001; Chao,
Haxby, & Martin, 1999). As the current investigation ex-
plored the generation of action-related stereotypes, we
expected to observe activity in these latter areas (Martin,
To elucidate the neural correlates of gender stereo-
typing, we used fMRI to measure brain activity while par-
ticipants performed two versions of a simple judgment
task. The task required participants to report the likely
actor (i.e., person-focus) and origin (i.e., place-focus) of
a series of everyday activities (e.g., mowing the lawn,
watching talk shows, taking photographs), some of
which were associated with prevailing gender stereo-
types. On person-focus trials, participants reported if
the behaviors were performed predominantly by men
or women or were equally likely to be undertaken by
both sexes. On place-focus trials, in contrast, partici-
pants indicated whether the behaviors were typically
performed indoors or outdoors or were likely to occur
in both locations. These tasks made it possible to estab-
lish if inferences about people differ from comparable
To investigate the neural substrates of gender stereo-
typing (i.e., person-focus trials), responses convergent
with the cultural stereotypes of women and men were
contrasted with person judgments that have no stereo-
typic implications (i.e., stereotypic vs. nonstereotypic).
We anticipated that brain regions subserving person
construal (i.e., MPFC), together with areas supporting
the representation of action knowledge (e.g., posterior
temporal cortex), would underpin the generation of
Finally, we explored if patterning of the BOLD re-
sponse during stereotyping was associated with pre-
existing beliefs about the sexes. Previous research on
race categorization has indicated that increased brain
activity elicited by outgroup faces is correlated with the
strength of people’s implicit but not with their explicit
beliefs about outgroup members (Cunningham et al.,
2004; Phelps et al., 2000). In the current study, both im-
plicit and explicit measures of gender attitudes were
therefore administered to establish if comparable effects
emerge when the neural signature of stereotyping is un-
der investigation. As such, participants were required to
complete a gender-based Implicit Association Test (IAT;
Rudman, Greenwald, & McGhee, 2001) and the Atti-
tudes Toward Women Scale (AWS; Spence, Helmreich,
& Stapp, 1973) outside the scanner. Whereas the gender
IAT was administered to measure participants’ implicit
evaluative associations, the AWS was used to assess the
extent to which they explicitly endorse stereotyped be-
liefs about men and women.
Twenty right-handed undergraduate students of the
University of Aberdeen (7 men) aged between 18 and
32 years (mean age = 22.3 years) participated in the
experiment in exchange for a picture of their brain. All
participants were native English speakers, reported nor-
mal or corrected-to-normal vision, and had no history of
neurological problems. Informed consent was obtained
from all individuals and the study protocol was approved
by the Grampian Local Research Ethics Committee.
Stimuli and fMRI Paradigm
The task in the fMRI scanner required participants to
report the likely actor (i.e., person-focus) and origin (i.e.,
place-focus) of a series of behaviors. On person-focus
trials, participants reported if the behaviors were per-
formed predominantly by men or women or were equally
likely to be undertaken by both sexes. On place-focus
trials, in contrast, participants indicated whether the
behaviors were typically performed indoors or outdoors
or were likely to occur in both locations. For both tasks,
participants were presented with phrases describing
everyday activities and were instructed to base their
Quadflieg et al.1561
responses, not on the basis of their own personal views,
but in terms of general societal beliefs. This is a standard
methodology in social psychology to elicit stereotypical
judgments (Devine, 1989). Responses were given by
pressing one of three buttons on a button box with the
index, middle, or ring finger of the right hand. Prior to
the experiment proper, a pilot study was undertaken to
select behaviors for the judgment task. Twenty under-
graduates (6 men, mean age = 22.65 years, age range =
18–26 years) completed ‘‘person’’ and ‘‘place’’ judg-
ments on a questionnaire comprising 170 phrases de-
scribing everyday activities (e.g., maintaining the car,
going horseback riding, using a cell phone). Based on
these ratings, 100 behaviors were selected for the imag-
ing experiment. To be included in the experiment proper,
60% of participants had to make the same response to an
item (e.g., men maintain the car). Equivalent numbers
of stereotypic and neutral behaviors were selected.
For both tasks (i.e., person and place), the same be-
haviors were presented in different random orders. The
experiment was conducted in four blocks, with two
blocks of trials for each type of judgment. Within each
of these four functional runs, an event-related design
was employed. Each functional run contained 50 trials
of interest and an additional 30 rest trials. Rest trials
consisted of a display of the default screen only (i.e., a
display of the response options only). These trials were
included to introduce ‘‘jitter’’ into the time series so that
unique estimates of the hemodynamic responses for
the trial types of interest could be computed (Ollinger,
Shulman, & Corbetta, 2001). The order of the four
functional runs was counterbalanced across partici-
pants in an A, B, B, A fashion. Stimuli (i.e., behavioral
phrases) were presented for 2000 msec centrally on a
computer screen and the stimulus onset asynchrony
was 2500 msec. Participants’ responses and associated
response latencies were recorded. Stimulus presentation
was controlled using Presentation software (version 9.13,
Neurobehavioral Systems, Albany, CA).
Following the imaging experiment (i.e., outside the scan-
ner), participants completed a computer-based stan-
dardized IAT on gender (Rudman et al., 2001), and the
short version of the AWS (Spence et al., 1973). The
gender-IAT measures automatic category–attribute asso-
ciations thought to underlie implicit gender beliefs
(Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). The task requires respond-
ents to map four categories of stimuli on two response
buttons and operates under the assumption that well-
associated concepts can more easily be mapped onto the
same response key than less associated concepts.
In the current study, the IAT comprised a set of prac-
tice and test stimuli. The practice stimuli consisted of
five male forenames, five female forenames, five power-
meaning words, and five weak-meaning words. The test
stimuli consisted of 15 male forenames (e.g., Brian,
Scott, Peter), 15 female forenames (e.g., Susan, Laura,
Karen), 15 power-meaning words (e.g., strong, solid, vi-
olent), and 15 weak-meaning words (e.g., delicate,
quiet, frail). Participants responded to forenames and
words by pressing the ‘‘v’’ and ‘‘m’’ keys on a computer
keyboard. The IAT was administered in seven blocks.
First, participants were asked to distinguish male versus
female practice names. They were then instructed to dis-
tinguish powerful and weak practice words. In Block 3,
participants were asked to respond to the set of prac-
tice stimuli by pressing the ‘‘v’’ key for male names and
strong words, and the ‘‘m’’ key for female names and
weak words. In Block 4, Block 3 was repeated as a test
block with the experimental stimuli described above. In
Block 5, participants were again asked to distinguish
powerful and weak practice words, with response key
assignments reversed. In Block 6, participants were re-
quired to respond to the practice set of stimuli by press-
ing the ‘‘m’’ key for female names and strong words
and the ‘‘v’’ key for male names and weak words. In
Block 7, Block 6 was repeated as a test block. The IAT
effect was computed by subtracting the mean response
latency for performing the stereotype-compatible task
(Block 4, female names + weak words, male names +
strong words) from the stereotype-incompatible task
(Block 7, female names + strong words, male names +
weak words) and dividing the difference by the pooled
standard deviation of latencies across both blocks
(Greenwald, Nosek, & Banaji, 2003). Thus, the bigger
the relative difference in response latencies, the stronger
the implicit associations a person holds with regard to
gender. The order in which participants performed the
stereotype-compatible and incompatible tasks was coun-
terbalanced across participants and stimuli were ran-
domly presented within each block of trials.
The AWS consists of items reflecting traditional gender–
role beliefs (e.g., ‘‘A woman should not expect to
go to exactly the same places or to have quite the same
freedom of action as a man’’). Answers are given on
4-point scales ranging from 0 (agree strongly) to 3
(disagree strongly). A low average score is indicative of
the possession of stereotyped beliefs about men and
women. The AWS was administered as a paper-and-
Image Acquisition and Analysis
Image acquisition was undertaken on a 1.5-Tesla whole-
body scanner (GE Healthcare) with a standard head
coil. Anatomical images were acquired using a high-
resolution, 3-D spoiled gradient recalled echo sequence
(SPGR; 124 sagittal slices, TE = 3.2 msec, TR = 8 msec,
flip angle = 158, voxel size = 1 ? 1 ? 1.6 mm). Func-
tional images were collected in runs each comprising
80 volumes using a gradient spin-echo, echo-planar
sequence sensitive to BOLD contrast (TR = 2500 msec,
1562Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Volume 21, Number 8
T2* evolution time = 40 msec, flip angle = 908, 3.75 ?
3.75 in-plane resolution). For each volume, 30 axial
slices, 5 mm slice thickness, 0 mm skip between slices
were acquired allowing complete brain coverage.
Preprocessing and analysis of the imaging data were
performed using Statistical Parametric Mapping (SPM2,
Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, London,
UK). First, functional data were time-corrected for dif-
ferences in acquisition time between slices for each
whole-brain volume and realigned to the first volume to
minimize the effects of head movements on data anal-
ysis. Functional data were then transformed into a stan-
dard anatomical space (2 mm isotropic voxels) on the
basis of the ICBM 152 brain template (MNI). Normalized
data were then spatially smoothed (8 mm full-width-at-
half-maximum) using a Gaussian kernel. Statistical analy-
ses were performed using the general linear model. An
event-related design was modeled using a canonical
hemodynamic response function and its temporal de-
rivative. The model also included regressors for addition-
al covariates of no interest (a linear trend for the four
blocks). This analysis was performed individually for each
participant, and resulting contrast images were subse-
quently entered in a second-level analysis treating par-
ticipants as a random effect. To minimize false-positive
results, effects were considered statistically significant
using a statistical criterion of 71 or more contiguous re-
sampled voxels at a voxelwise threshold of p < .001. This
cluster size was calculated on the basis of a Monte Carlo
simulation (see Slotnick, Moo, Segal, & Hart, 2003) to
enforce an a priori threshold of p < .05 (corrected for
multiple comparisons). We also looked at the relation
between activation in regions of interest identified from
the contrast of stereotypic versus nonstereotypic judg-
ments and the strength of participants’ implicit and
explicit gender beliefs. For each functionally defined re-
gion, we calculated the correlation between (i) the dif-
ference in BOLD response associated with stereotypic
versus nonstereotypic trials, as indexed by the SPM pa-
rameter estimates associated with each trial type; and (ii)
participants’ IAT and AWS scores. In addition, given that
this is one of the first fMRI studies to examine gender
stereotyping, we also conducted regression analyses
across the whole brain to explore whether brain activity
during stereotypic compared to nonstereotypic person
judgments was correlated with participants’ gender be-
liefs as expressed on the IAT and AWS. Again, brain re-
gions with 71 or more contiguous resampled voxels at a
voxelwise threshold of p < .001 were considered statis-
As the current experiment explored the neural corre-
lates of stereotyping (i.e., culturally shared beliefs about
the attributes and behaviors associated with social
groups), only judgments that matched consensual gen-
der stereotypes were submitted to statistical analysis.
That is, participants’ responses had to match the gender
stereotypes that were established in the pilot study. For
example, if a participant reported that ‘‘playing poker is
preferentially performed by women,’’ this trial was
excluded from analyses because it did not confirm the
stereotype (i.e., ‘‘men typically play poker’’). To ensure
consistency, the same approach was adopted for re-
sponses on the place task (i.e., only judgments that
matched consensual beliefs about the appropriate loca-
tions were analyzed). Applying this strategy, 11% (SD =
5%) of the person-categorical (i.e., gender stereotypic)
trials and 9% (SD = 3%) of the place-categorical trials
were excluded from the analysis, as were 20% (SD =
13%) of the person-both (i.e., gender nonstereotypic)
and 19% (SD = 10%) of the place-both trials. To in-
vestigate whether the number of critical trials differed
across tasks, participants’ percentages of accurate re-
sponses were submitted to a 2 (task: person or place) ?
2 (response: categorical or both) repeated measures
analysis of variance (ANOVA). The only significant effect
to emerge was a main effect of response [F(1, 19) =
11.63, p < .05], such that participants’ judgments were
more accurate (i.e., confirmed consensual beliefs) on
trials with ‘‘categorical’’ (i.e., men/women or indoor/
outdoor, M = 90%, SD = 4%) than ‘‘both’’ (M = 81%,
SD = 11%) answers.
Participants’ median response times on correct trials
were submitted to an identical analysis. The results re-
vealed a significant effect of task [F(1, 19) = 33.25, p <
.05], indicating that person judgments (M = 1107 msec,
SD = 115 msec) were faster than place judgments (M =
1216 msec, SD = 116 msec). There was also a main ef-
fect of response [F(1, 19) = 92.04, p < .05], such that
‘‘categorical’’ answers (M = 1077 msec, SD = 98 msec)
were given faster than ‘‘both’’ answers (M = 1245 msec,
SD = 129 msec). A Task ? Response interaction was
also observed [F(1, 19) = 5.58, p < .05]. Additional
t tests revealed that reaction times were faster for ‘‘cate-
gorical’’ (M = 1036 msec, SD = 118 msec) than ‘‘both’’
judgments (M = 1177 msec, SD = 136 msec) on per-
son trials [t(19) = 5.81, p < .05]. Comparable effects
emerged on ‘‘categorical’’ (M = 1118 msec, SD =
95 msec) and ‘‘both’’ (M = 1313 msec, SD = 144 msec)
judgments during place trials [t(19) = 11.51, p < .05].1
Participants’ IAT scores ranged from ?0.30 to 0.94 with a
mean score of 0.40 (SD = 0.33), indicating that female
names were more readily associated with weak words
and male names with powerful words than vice versa.
Scores on the AWS ranged from 26 to 43 with a mean
value of 36.6 (SD = 4.07). The two attitude measures
were correlated [r(18) = ?.43, p < .05], such that the
Quadflieg et al.1563
stronger participants’ implicit gender bias (i.e., the
higher the relative difference between compatible and
incompatible trials), the more stereotypic their explicit
beliefs about the sexes (i.e., the lower their score on
the AWS; see also Rudman et al., 2001).
Our first set of analyses compared judgments completed
under a person-focus with those obtained under a place-
focus (see Table 1). The contrast (place-focus > person-
focus) yielded differences in several regions, including
the left middle frontal gyrus (BA 6), the left inferior
parietal lobe (BA 40), the right superior occipital lobe
(BA 19), the left posterior middle temporal gyrus (BA 21/
37), the left precuneus (BA 17/19), and the left fusiform
gyrus (BA 37). The reverse contrast (person-focus >
place-focus) did not reveal any significant differences
in activation. Interestingly, when analysis was restricted
to categorical trials (i.e., trials eliciting a male/female
or indoor/outdoor response), the contrast of person >
place revealed activity in regions that have previously
been implicated in social thought, notably the dorsal
MPFC (BA 8 and 9), the left TPJ (BA 39), and the right
superior frontal gyrus (SFG, BA 6).
In our second analysis, we targeted brain regions that
differentiated between stereotypic and nonstereotypic
(i.e., both) person judgments (see Table 2). The contrast
person-stereotypic > person-both revealed activation in
several areas, including the ventral MPFC [vMPFC] (BA
10), the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG, BA 37), the
left supramarginal gyrus (SMG, BA 40), the left putamen,
the right precuneus (BA 7), the right amygdala and the
left amygdala extending into the parahippocampal, and
the superior temporal gyri (STG, BA 20/21; see Figure 1).
The reverse contrast (person-both >person-stereotypic)
revealed no significant differences in brain activation.
To establish if the effects observed for person-
stereotypic judgments (stereotypic > both) were mod-
ulated by stereotypicality rather than differences in the
cognitive processes underlying ‘‘categorical’’ versus
‘‘both’’ judgments, we extracted the mean parameter
estimates for the comparable place judgments (i.e., cat-
egorical vs. both) and submitted these together with
the person parameter estimates to a 2 (task: person or
place) ? 2 (response: categorical or both) repeated
measures ANOVA. Analyses were restricted to the areas
of theoretical interest depicted in Figure 1 (i.e., vMPFC,
MTG, SMG, bilateral amygdalae). In each region, a Task ?
Response interaction was observed [all Fs(1, 19) >
11.26, p < .05], although this effect was only marginally
significant in the right amygdala [F(1, 19) = 3.75, p <
.07]. Additional t tests confirmed that, with respect to
person trials, activity in all of the regions was greater
when stereotypic-person than both-person judgments
were reported [all ts (19) > 4.85 p < .05; see Figure 1].
Importantly, quite different effects emerged during
place trials. Whereas in the vMPFC and in the left and
right amygdala no differences in activity were observed
as a function of the judgments reported [all ts(19) <
1.84, ns], in the MTG and STG, ‘‘both’’ judgments
yielded a larger BOLD response than ‘‘categorical’’ judg-
ments [both ts(19) > 2.45, p < .05; see Figure 1]. Taken
together, these findings speak against the possibility
that the stereotyping effects observed herein reflect
Table 1. Peak Voxel and Number of Voxels for Brain
Regions Obtained for Person Judgment and Place Judgment
Trials ( p < .05, Corrected)
Person Judgment > Place Judgment
No significant activation
Place Judgment > Person Judgment
Middle temporal gyrus
Inferior parietal lobe 1115.26
Superior occipital lobe26715.18
Middle frontal gyrus
2 54 1675.01
t values reflect the statistical difference between the two conditions, as
computed by SPM2. Coordinates refer to the MNI stereotaxic space.
Table 2. Peak Voxel and Number of Voxels for Brain
Regions Obtained for Person-stereotypic and Person-both
Trials ( p < .05, Corrected)
Person-stereotypic > Person-both
Person-both > Person-stereotypic
No significant activation
t values reflect the statistical difference between the two conditions, as
computed by SPM2. Coordinates refer to the MNI stereotaxic space.
1564Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Volume 21, Number 8
differences in the cognitive operations supporting ‘‘cat-
egorical’’ and ‘‘both’’ judgments.
To investigate the relation between participants’ ex-
plicit and implicit beliefs about the sexes and the brain
activity that accompanied person-based judgments, we
examined the correlation between the BOLD response
in the areas noted above and scores on the IAT and
AWS. These correlational analyses revealed that the
more stereotypic participants’ explicit beliefs about the
sexes (i.e., as assessed by the AWS), the greater the ac-
tivity in the right amygdala during the generation of
‘‘stereotypic’’ than ‘‘both’’ judgments [r(18) = ?.38,
p < .05; see Figure 1]. A comparable, though marginal,
effect was also observed for participants’ implicit gender
associations (i.e., as indexed by the IAT), such that the
stronger these associations, the greater the activation in
the right amygdala during ‘‘stereotypic’’ than ‘‘both’’
judgments [r(18) = .37, p < .06; see Figure 1]. Addi-
tional whole-brain regression analyses did not reveal
any further significant correlations between the IAT
and AWS scores and the BOLD response.
Finally, to identify the regions supporting place judg-
ments, the BOLD signal during trials eliciting a ‘‘cate-
gorical’’ response and those eliciting a ‘‘both’’ response
were compared (see Table 3). The contrast place-
categorical > place-both did not reveal any significant
differences in activation. The opposite contrast (place-
both > place-categorical) yielded activity in a number of
regions, including the left SFG (BA 6/8), the bilateral in-
ferior frontal gyrus (IFG, BA 47), the right angular gyrus
(BA 39), and the left fusiform gyrus extending into the
precuneus and the cuneus (BA 19/18).
In the current study, participants judged a series of ev-
eryday activities under either a person-based (i.e., who
Figure 1. (A) Brain regions displaying greater activity during stereotypic than nonstereotypic trials: (a) vMPFC, (b) amygdalae, (c), MTG,
(d) SMG. (B) Relationship between BOLD response in the right amygdala obtained for stereotypic > nonstereotypic trials and implicit
gender beliefs. (C) Relationship between BOLD response in the right amygdala obtained for stereotypic > nonstereotypic trials and explicit
Table 3. Peak Voxel and Number of Voxels for Brain
Regions Obtained for Place-categorical and Place-both Trials
( p < .05, Corrected)
Place-categorical > Place-both
No significant activation
Place-both > Place-categorical
Angular gyrus 52
t values reflect the statistical difference between the two conditions, as
computed by SPM2. Coordinates refer to the MNI stereotaxic space.
Quadflieg et al. 1565
predominantly performs the action?) or place-based
(i.e., where is the action typically performed?) focus.
Critically, some of the activities were stereotypic with
respect to prevailing cultural beliefs about the sexes.
Although analysis of the imaging results revealed limited
effects of judgment-focus on brain activity, gender ster-
eotyping was associated with activation in regions that
subserve the representation of action knowledge (e.g.,
left MTG, left SMG) and evaluative processing (e.g.,
amygdala, vMPFC). These results are noteworthy for a
number of reasons. When participants are required to
generate action words, answer questions about tools,
or retrieve action knowledge, activity is reliably observed
in the left hemisphere in the MTG and in the SMG
(Assmus, Giessing, Weiss, & Fink, 2007; Tranel, Martin,
Damasio, Grabowski, & Hichwa, 2005; Kellenbach et al.,
2003; Damasio et al., 2001; Grezes & Decety, 2001; Chao
et al, 1999). Comparable results were obtained in the
current investigation in a task context in which par-
ticipants generated action-based stereotypic judgments.
What this suggests is that action knowledge may com-
prise not only the movements associated with particular
activities or objects (Martin, 2007) but also information
pertaining to the actor who is most likely to perform the
activity in question. That is, action representations con-
tain person-related knowledge.
Of course, modulation in regions associated with the
representation of action knowledge may simply reflect
the manner in which stereotyping was probed in the
current inquiry. Aside from information characterizing
the favored activities of the sexes, cultural stereotypes
also furnish details of the likely appearance and person-
alities of men and women (Fiske, 1998). Given that
semantic knowledge is represented in a distributed net-
work of domain-specific cortical areas (Martin, 2007;
Humphreys & Forde, 2001; Tyler & Moss, 2001), this
suggests that if appearance-based or personality-related
forms of stereotyping were to be assessed, then activity
would emerge in the relevant components of this net-
work. For example, visual stereotyping should yield ac-
tivity in areas within the ventral temporal cortex (Ishai
et al., 2000; O’Craven & Kanwisher, 2000), whereas
probing of gender-stereotypic personality traits should
elicit activation in the anterior STG (Zahn et al., 2007).
One useful task for future research will be to explore
Together with activation in regions supporting the re-
presentation of action knowledge, stereotyping was also
accompanied by activity in areas associated with eval-
uative processing, notably the amygdala and the vMPFC
(Bechara, Damasio, Damasio, & Lee, 1999). Further-
more, activity in the right amygdala was correlated with
the strength of participants’ explicit and implicit gen-
der beliefs. An extensive literature has documented
the critical role played by the amygdala in evaluative
processing, particularly in the social domain (Bar-On,
Tranel, Denburg, & Bechara, 2003; Zald, 2003; Phan,
Wager, Taylor, & Liberzon, 2002). In the context of
of amygdala activity remains open to debate (Knutson
et al., 2007; Cunningham et al., 2004; Phelps et al., 2000).
Although activity in this structure has been observed in
tasks demanding the overt categorization of male and
female faces (e.g., Fischer et al., 2004; Phillips et al., 2001;
component of person construal, rather than stereotyping
per se. As Knutson et al. (2007) have reported, ‘‘further
research is needed before stating that performing gen-
der stereotypic tasks activates the amygdala, as amyg-
dala activation to gender stereotyping has not been
previously reported in the literature’’ (p. 926). In this
respect, the current findings provide direct evidence
for an association between amygdala activity and gen-
der stereotyping. In addition, they extend previous re-
search on race processing which has demonstrated a
relationship between people’s race-related IAT scores
and activity in the amygdala during the perception of
Black and White faces (Cunningham et al., 2004; Phelps
et al., 2000). Specifically, the current results reveal that
amygdala activity may also subserve the generation of
group-based stereotypic judgments, albeit in the context
of gender stereotyping. What this suggests is that re-
sponding stereotypically may be an inherently evaluative
process (Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000), especially
for individuals who hold strong stereotypic beliefs about
In contrast to previous studies on race categorization
(Cunningham et al., 2004; Phelps et al., 2000), amygdala
activity during gender stereotyping was not only cor-
related with the strength of participants’ implicit atti-
tudes but also their explicit beliefs about the sexes. So
why might these differences between race and gender
stereotyping arise? One possibility is that the strength
of the relationship between neural activity and various
attitude measures may depend on the particular social
group under consideration (i.e., race versus sex). That is,
perhaps activity in the amygdala during race-based
processing correlates only with the strength of implicit
race attitudes, whereas activity in the amygdala during
gender-based processing correlates with the strength of
implicit and explicit gender attitudes. It seems more
likely, however, that these differences may be traced to
the manner in which racial and gender-related attitudes
have been explored in the literature to date. Whereas
the current study required participants to draw explicit
stereotypic inferences about the sexes, imaging inves-
tigations of race-based processing typically entail the per-
ceptual categorization of outgroup faces (Cunningham
et al., 2004; Phelps et al., 2000). These basic task differ-
ences (i.e., stereotype generation vs. face construal), we
suspect, may account for the discrepant findings. Ac-
cumulating evidence has indicated that categorization is
a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emer-
gence of stereotyping (Blair, Judd, Sadler, & Jenkins,
1566 Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Volume 21, Number 8
1998; Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 1997; Gilbert & Hixon,
1991). What this suggests is that previous work on race
processing may have failed to trigger stereotypical think-
ing, hence, the absence of a significant correlation be-
tween amygdala activity and participants’ explicit racial
beliefs (Cunningham et al.,2004; Phelps etal., 2000).This
possibility merits further empirical attention.
Interestingly, although increased amygdala activity
during stereotypic responding was observed bilaterally,
only activity in the right amygdala correlated with par-
ticipants’ gender attitudes. It has been suggested that
although both amygdalae can signal the emotional sig-
nificance of a stimulus (Phelps, 2006; Zald, 2003), the
respective patterns of activation may depend on why a
stimulus is emotionally salient. In particular, it has been
proposed that activity in the right amygdala is mod-
erated by stimuli that have acquired emotional signifi-
cance through learning rather than based on some
innate propensity (Dolan & Morris, 2000). Elsewhere,
it has been suggested that although both amygdalae
can signal the learned emotional significance of mate-
rial, the manner in which learning takes place modulates
reactivity in these structures. Specifically, whereas the
right amygdala appears to depend on the acquisition of
emotional meaning through experience, the left amyg-
dala reflects learning through instruction (Phelps et al.,
2001). Given the experiential nature of gender–role
socialization, this viewpoint may account for the current
observation that the strength of people’s gender beliefs
was correlated with activity in the right but not in the
left amygdala. A useful task for future research will be
to specify the precise relationship between the manner
in which stereotypes are acquired (e.g., instance vs.
abstraction-based) and hemispheric differences in amyg-
Complementing the reported amygdala activity, acti-
vation was also observed in the vMPFC during stereo-
typing. Both the animal and imaging literatures offer
evidence that the vMPFC provides important regulatory
input to the amygdala during emotional processing
(e.g., Goel & Dolan, 2003; Kim, Somerville, Johnstone,
Alexander, & Whalen, 2003; Milad & Quirk, 2002; Bechara
et al., 1999; Damasio,1997; Morgan, Romanski, & LeDoux,
1993). It is unsurprising therefore that the vMPFC is also
implicated in the generation of stereotypical judgments.
Elsewhere, activity in this region has been reported when
people read stereotypic information about foreigners
(Saxe & Wexler, 2005) or complete associations that con-
firm implicit racial and gender-based beliefs (Knutson
et al., 2007). Furthermore, compared to healthy volun-
teers or patients with damage to the dorsolateral pre-
frontal cortex, individuals with lesions in the vMPFC
display reduced levels of stereotyping when their implicit
attitudes are assessed (Milne & Grafman, 2001). One pos-
sibility is that damage to the vMPFC blunts access to the
evaluative component of stereotypical beliefs. What is
evident in the current paradigm is that gender stereo-
typing activates regions commonly associated with emo-
tional reasoning (Goel & Dolan, 2003; Davidson, Jackson,
& Kalin, 2000), a finding that underscores the evaluative
nature of stereotypical thinking.
In the current study, increased activity in both the
MPFC and the right amygdala during stereotypic com-
pared to nonstereotypic judgments was the result of dif-
ferences in the magnitude of deactivations relative to
baseline (see Figure 1A). Although such a patterning of
the BOLD response is commonplace in the MPFC, re-
sponses in the amygdala less frequently take this form.
Studies examining why certain brain regions consis-
tently deactivate in the presence of an active processing
task suggest that the MPFC plays a prominent role in de-
fault cognitive operations, such as stimulus-independent
thought (see Mason et al., 2007; Gusnard & Raichle,
2001). Quite why deactivations occur in the amyg-
dala, however, is less certain. In the current investigation,
whereas the right amygdala showed decreased activity
relative to baseline during nonstereotypic person and
all place judgments, activity during stereotypic-person
judgments was at baseline. Recent data suggest that dur-
ing cognitively demanding tasks that do not necessitate
the emotional processing of stimuli, active suppres-
sion of amygdala activity can occur (Pessoa, Padmala, &
Morland, 2005). Given this finding, the nonemotional
character of both nonstereotypic and place judgments
may account for the observed deactivations in the right
amygdala in the current investigation. Additional re-
search will be required to explore the viability of this
Notwithstanding the significant influence that stereo-
typing exerts on behavior, limited research has explored
the neural correlates of this core social–cognitive pro-
cess. Responding to this empirical lacuna, the current in-
vestigation considered the neural substrates of gender
stereotyping. As a strategy to infer the likely deeds of
others, stereotypic judgments were accompanied by
activity in regions supporting the representation of ac-
tion knowledge and evaluative processing. As such, the
current results capture the cognitive and emotional com-
ponents of stereotypical thinking (Fiske, 1998). In addi-
tion, the neural circuitry underpinning stereotyping was
modulated by the strength of people’s implicit and ex-
plicit gender-related beliefs. Thus, although most per-
sons are capable of generating stereotypic judgments
(Devine, 1989), activity in the neural circuitry supporting
these responses is sensitive to the strength with which
gender-based beliefs are endorsed in everyday life. These
findings elucidate how stereotyping fits within the neu-
roscience of person understanding (Amodio & Frith,
2006; Frith & Frith, 2006; Adolphs, 2001, 2003).
Quadflieg et al.1567
We thank Todd Heatherton and two anonymous reviewers
for their helpful comments on this work. S. Q. was supported
by a University of Aberdeen Graduate Award and C. N. M. by a
Royal Society-Wolfson Fellowship.
Reprint requests should be sent to Susanne Quadflieg,
School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, King’s College,
Aberdeen AB24 2UB, Scotland, UK, or via e-mail: s.quadflieg@
same gender stereotypes, accuracy scores and median re-
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4.8%), women = 89.0% (SD = 5.2%), t(18) < 1, ns; response
times: men = 1072 msec (SD = 152 msec), women =
1017 msec (SD = 97 msec), t(18) < 1, ns].
To verify that male and female participants report the
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