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Causes of social reward differences encoded in human brain


Vostroknutov, Alexander; Tobler, Philippe N; Rustichini, Aldo (2012). Causes of social reward differences encoded in human brain. Journal of Neurophysiology, 107(5):1403-1412.

Abstract

Rewards may be due to skill, effort, and luck, and the social perception of inequality in rewards among individuals may depend on what produced the inequality. Rewards due to skill produce a conflict: higher outcomes of others in this case are considered deserved, and this counters incentives to reduce inequality. However, they also signal superior skill and for this reason induce strong negative affect in those who perform less, which increases the incentive to reduce the inequality. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying evaluation of rewards due to skill, effort, and luck are still unknown. We scanned brain activity of subjects as they perceived monetary rewards caused by skill, effort, or luck. Subjects could subtract from others. Subtraction was larger, everything else being equal, in luck but increased more as the difference in outcomes grew in skill. Similarly, reward-related activation in medial orbitofrontal cortex was more sensitive to the difference in relative outcomes in skill trials. Orbitofrontal activation reflecting comparative reward advantage predicted by how much subjects reduced unfavorable reward inequality later on in the trial. Thus medial orbitofrontal cortex activity reflects the causes of reward and predicts actions that reduce inequality.

Rewards may be due to skill, effort, and luck, and the social perception of inequality in rewards among individuals may depend on what produced the inequality. Rewards due to skill produce a conflict: higher outcomes of others in this case are considered deserved, and this counters incentives to reduce inequality. However, they also signal superior skill and for this reason induce strong negative affect in those who perform less, which increases the incentive to reduce the inequality. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying evaluation of rewards due to skill, effort, and luck are still unknown. We scanned brain activity of subjects as they perceived monetary rewards caused by skill, effort, or luck. Subjects could subtract from others. Subtraction was larger, everything else being equal, in luck but increased more as the difference in outcomes grew in skill. Similarly, reward-related activation in medial orbitofrontal cortex was more sensitive to the difference in relative outcomes in skill trials. Orbitofrontal activation reflecting comparative reward advantage predicted by how much subjects reduced unfavorable reward inequality later on in the trial. Thus medial orbitofrontal cortex activity reflects the causes of reward and predicts actions that reduce inequality.

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11 citations in Web of Science®
11 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
08 University Research Priority Programs > Foundations of Human Social Behavior: Altruism and Egoism
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
330 Economics
Language:English
Date:1 March 2012
Deposited On:28 Mar 2012 10:15
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:45
Publisher:American Physiological Society
ISSN:0022-3077
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:10.1152/jn.00298.2011
Official URL:http://jn.physiology.org/content/107/5/1403.full
PubMed ID:22157114
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-61455

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