Being liked activates primary reward and midline self-related brain regions

Christopher G Davey, Nicholas Brian Allen, B J Harrison, Dominic B Dwyer, Murat Yucel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


The experience of being liked is a key social event and fundamental to motivating human behavior, though little is known about its neural underpinnings. In this study, we examined the experience of being liked in a group of 15- to 24-year-old: a cohort for whom forming friendships has a great degree of salience, and for whom the explicit representation of relationships is familiar from their frequent use of social networking technologies. Study participants (n = 19) were led to believe that other participants had formed an opinion on their likability based on their appearance in a photograph, and during fMRI scanning viewed the photographs of people who had purportedly responded favorably to them (alongside photographs of control participants). Results indicated that being liked activated primary reward- and self-related regions, including the nucleus accumbens, midbrain (in an area corresponding to the ventral tegmentum), ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex (including retrosplenial cortex), amygdala, and insula/opercular cortex. Participants showed greater activation of ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala in response to being liked by people that they regarded highly compared to those they regarded less so. Finally, being liked by the opposite compared to the same gender activated the right caudal orbitofrontal cortex and right anterior insula: areas important for the representation of primary somatic rewards. This study demonstrates that neural response to being liked has features that are consistent with response to other rewarding events, but it has additional features that reflect its intrinsically interpersonal character.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)660 - 668
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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