Observed and self-experienced conflict induce similar behavioral and neural adaptation

Soc Neurosci. 2012 Jul;7(4):385-97. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2011.628760. Epub 2011 Oct 24.


In adapting our behavior to a rapidly changing environment, we also tune our behavior to that of others. To investigate the neural bases of such adaptive mechanisms, we examined how individuals adjust their actions after decision-conflicts observed in others compared to self-experienced conflicts. Participants responded to the color of a stimulus, while its spatial position elicited either a conflicting or a congruent action. Participants were required either to respond to stimuli themselves or to observe the response of another participant. We studied the difference between interference effects following conflicting or congruent stimuli, an effect known as conflict adaptation. Consistent with earlier reports, we found that the implementation of reactive control, following congruent trials, was accompanied by activation of the right inferior frontal cortex. Individual differences in the efficacy of response inhibition covaried with the level of activation in that region. Sustaining proactive control, following incongruent trials, activated the left lateral prefrontal cortex. Most importantly, adaptive controls induced by decision-conflicts observed in others, as well as the associated prefrontal activations, were comparable to those induced by self-experienced conflicts. We show that in both behavioral and neural terms we adapt to conflicts happening to others just as if they happened to us.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult