Neural correlates of the false consensus effect: Evidence for motivated projection and regulatory restraint

B. Locke Welborn, Benjamin C. Gunter, I Stephanie Vezich, Matthew D. Lieberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


The false consensus effect (FCE), the tendency to project our attitudes and opinions on to others, is a pervasive bias in social reasoning with a range of ramifications for individuals and society. Research in social psychology has suggested that numerous factors (anchoring and adjustment, accessibility, motivated projection, etc.) may contribute to the FCE. In this study, we examine the neural correlates of the FCE and provide evidence that motivated projection plays a significant role. Activity in reward regions (ventromedial pFC and bilateral nucleus accumbens) during consensus estimation was positively associated with bias, whereas activity in right ventrolateral pFC (implicated in emotion regulation) was inversely associated with bias. Activity in reward and regulatory regions accounted for half of the total variation in consensus bias across participants (R2 = .503). This research complements models of the FCE in social psychology, providing a glimpse into the neural mechanisms underlying this important phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)708-717
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number4
Early online date28 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Consensus
  • Emotions/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation/physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens/diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex/diagnostic imaging
  • Projection
  • Reward
  • Self-Control
  • Social Perception
  • Young Adult

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