Social comparison impacts stimulus evaluation in a competitive social learning task
SourcePLoS One, 15, 6, (2020), article e0234397
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC SMN
SubjectAction, intention, and motor control
When we perform an action, the outcome that follows it can change the value we place on that behaviour, making it more or less likely to be repeated in the future. However, the values that we learn are not objective: we interpret the outcomes that we receive for ourselves relative to those that share our environment, i.e. we engage in social comparison. The temporal dynamics of physiological responses to stimulus valuation in social learning tasks are poorly understood, particularly in human participants. Therefore, we recorded stimulus-locked event-related potentials with 64-channel EEG to examine stimulus valuation, following the design of a study previously used in macaques. Pairs of participants performed a social learning task in which they received outcomes sequentially for a presented stimulus (partner first) by pressing a button in response to a cue. There were two conditions: one in which stimulus values varied for the participant but output a constant rate of reward for the partner (self-variable blocks), and another condition in which this payout was reversed (other-variable blocks). We then measured participants' self-reported competitiveness. Approximately 200 ms post-stimulus, an ERP related to stimulus evaluation and attentional processing appeared to encode own stimulus value in self-variable blocks. In other-variable blocks the same pattern of activity was reversed, even though the value of the stimulus for the participant did not depend on the stimulus presented. Outcome-locked analyses further showed that attention dedicated to the partner's outcome was greater in more competitive participants. We conclude that subjective stimulus value can be reflected in early stimulus-locked ERP responses and that competitive participants may be more invested in their own performance relative to the other player, hence their increased interest in the outcome of their partner.
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