Social conflicts elicit an N400-like component

Yi HUANG, Keith M. KENDRICK, Rongjun YU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


When people have different opinions, they often adjust their own attitude to match that of others, known as social conformity. How social conflicts trigger subsequent conformity remains unclear. One possibility is that a conflict with the group opinion is perceived as a violation of social information, analogous to using wrong grammar, and activates conflict monitoring and adjustment mechanisms. Using event related potential (ERP) recording combined with a face attractiveness judgment task, we investigated the neural encoding of social conflicts. We found that social conflicts elicit an N400-like negative deflection, being more negative for conflict with group opinions than no-conflict condition. The social conflict related signals also have a bi-directional profile similar to reward prediction error signals: it was more negative for under-estimation (i.e. one[U+05F3]s own ratings were smaller than group ratings) than over-estimation, and the larger the differences between ratings, the larger the N400 amplitude. The N400 effects were significantly diminished in the non-social condition. We conclude that social conflicts are encoded in a bidirectional fashion in the N400-like component, similar to the pattern of reward-based prediction error signals. Our findings also suggest that the N400, a well-established ERP component encoding semantic violation, might be involved in social conflict processing and social learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-220
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Conformity
  • Decision making
  • ERP
  • N400
  • Social conflict


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