There is much evidence indicating that people are biased towards information relevant to themselves compared with information relevant to other people, but the nature of these effects is often unclear: Do they reflect stimulus familiarity? Do they reflect changes in perception? Do they occur automatically? Are the effects similar to changes in the perceptual saliency of stimuli? Do the effects reflect more basic underlying mechanisms, such as the differential reward value of stimuli? Answers to these questions are important for understanding the nature of perception and attention in the human brain. We focus on data derived from a novel associative learning procedure designed to assess effects of social (e.g., self-related) association with previously neutral stimuli. Evidence using this procedure suggests that social association does not reflect stimulus familiarity per se, that it can modify perception, that it can both occur automatically and alter expectancies, that it produces functional and neural changes equivalent to the effects of perceptual saliency, that it depends on specific neural circuitry and has some but not complete overlap with the effects of reward. We argue that perception is not isolated from the social associations we have with the environment.
- Brain mechanisms