Brain System for Social Categorization by Narrative Roles

Yorai Ron, Amnon Dafni-Merom, Noam Saadon-Grosman, Moshe Roseman, Uri Elias, Shahar Arzy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cognitive system applies categorical thinking to facilitate perception of the rich environment around us. In person cognition, research has focused on the roles of gender, race, age, or appearance in social categorical thinking. Here we investigated how narrative roles, as portrayed by different cinematic characters, are categorized in the neurocognitive system. Under functional MRI, 17 human participants (7 females) were asked to make different judgments regarding personality traits of 16 renowned cinematic characters representing four roles: hero, sidekick, mentor, and villain. Classification analysis showed a brain network, comprising the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, the precuneus and the temporoparietal junction bilaterally, and the left occipital face area (OFA), to discriminate among the four roles. No such classification was found between other individual attributes including age or the associated film. Moreover, regions overlapping the default mode network (DMN) were found to better discriminate between roles, rather than the individual characters, while the OFA was found to better discriminate between individuals. These results demonstrate the inherent role of roles in person cognition, and suggest an intimate relation between roles categorization and self-referential activity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)5246-5253
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number26
StatePublished - 29 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Received July 11, 2021; revised Apr. 28, 2022; accepted May 11, 2022. Author contributions: Y.R. and S.A. designed research; Y.R. performed research; Y.R., A.D.-M., N.S.-G., M.R., U.E., and S.A. analyzed data; Y.R., A.D.-M., and S.A. wrote the paper. The study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 1306/18) and the Center for Interdisciplinary Data Science Research of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Y.R. is supported by the Samuel & Lottie Rudin Scholarship Foundation. We thank Dr. Gregory Peters-Founshtein for comments on the manuscript and help in data analysis. *Y.R. and A.D.-M. contributed equally to this work. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence should be addressed to Shahar Arzy at Copyright © 2022 the authors

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 the authors


  • categorical thinking
  • default mode
  • fMRI
  • film
  • person memory
  • social cognition
  • social neuroscience


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