The opinions of others can easily affect how much we value things. We investigated what happens in our brain when we agree with others about the value of an object and whether or not there is evidence, at the neural level, for social con- formity through which we change object valuation. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we independently modeled (1) learning reviewer opinions about a piece of music, (2) reward value while receiving a token for that music, and (3) their interaction in 28 healthy adults. We show that agreement with two ‘‘expert’’ reviewers on music choice produces activity in a region of ventral striatum that also responds when receiving a valued object. It is known that the magnitude of activity in the ventral striatum reflects the value of reward-predicting stimuli [1–8]. We show that social influence on the value of an object is associated with the magnitude of the ventral striatum response to receiving it. This finding provides clear evidence that social influence mediates very basic value signals in known rein- forcement learning circuitry [9–12]. Influence at such a low level could contribute to rapid learning and the swift spread of values throughout a population.
Current Biology, 2010, Vol 20, Issue 13, p. 1165-1170