Social power differences fundamentally shape the behavioral interaction dynamics of groups and societies. While it has long been recognized that individual socio-cultural preferences mitigate social interactions involving persons of power, there is limited empirical data on the underlying neural correlates. To bridge this gap, we asked university student participants to decide whether they were willing to engage in social activities involving their teachers (higher power status), classmates (equal power status), or themselves (control) while functional brain images were acquired. Questionnaires assessed participants' preferences for power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and cultural intelligence. As expected, participants generally accepted more social interactions with classmates than teachers. Also, left inferior frontal activity was higher when accepting than when rejecting social interactions with teachers. Critically, power distance preferences further modulated right lateral frontoparietal activity contrasting approach relative to avoidance decisions towards teachers. In addition, uncertainty avoidance modulated activity in medial frontal, precuneus, and left supramarginal areas distinguishing approach decisions towards teachers relative to classmates. Cultural intelligence modulated neural responses to classmate approach/avoidance decisions in anterior cingulate and left parietal areas. Overall, functional activities in distinct brain networks reflected different personal socio-cultural preferences despite observed social decisions to interact with others of differential power status. Such findings highlight that social approach or avoidance behaviors towards powerful persons involves differential subjective neural processes possibly involved in computing implicit social utility.
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