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Inequality signals in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex inform social preference models


Holper, Lisa; Burke, Christopher J; Fausch, Christoph; Seifritz, Erich; Tobler, Philippe N (2018). Inequality signals in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex inform social preference models. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(5):513-524.

Abstract

Humans typically display inequality aversion in social situations, which manifests itself as a preference for fairer distributions of resources. However, people differ in the degree to which they dislike being worse off [disadvantageous inequality (DI) aversion] or better off [advantageous inequality (AI) aversion] than others. Competing models explain such behavior by focusing on aversion to payoff differences, maximization of total payoff or reciprocity. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, we asked which of these theories could better explain dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) activity while participants accepted or punished fair vs unfair monetary transfers in an anonymous norm compliance task. We found that while all participants exhibited DI aversion, there were substantial differences in preferences for AI, which were strongly predicted by dlPFC activation. Model comparisons revealed that both punishment behavior and prefrontal activity were best explained by a model that allowed for AI seeking rather than imposing aversion. Moreover, enhancing this model by taking into account behavioral response times, as a proxy for choice difficulty, further improved model fits. Our data provide evidence that the dlPFC encodes subjective values of payoff inequality and that this representation is richer than envisaged by standard models of social preferences.

Abstract

Humans typically display inequality aversion in social situations, which manifests itself as a preference for fairer distributions of resources. However, people differ in the degree to which they dislike being worse off [disadvantageous inequality (DI) aversion] or better off [advantageous inequality (AI) aversion] than others. Competing models explain such behavior by focusing on aversion to payoff differences, maximization of total payoff or reciprocity. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, we asked which of these theories could better explain dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) activity while participants accepted or punished fair vs unfair monetary transfers in an anonymous norm compliance task. We found that while all participants exhibited DI aversion, there were substantial differences in preferences for AI, which were strongly predicted by dlPFC activation. Model comparisons revealed that both punishment behavior and prefrontal activity were best explained by a model that allowed for AI seeking rather than imposing aversion. Moreover, enhancing this model by taking into account behavioral response times, as a proxy for choice difficulty, further improved model fits. Our data provide evidence that the dlPFC encodes subjective values of payoff inequality and that this representation is richer than envisaged by standard models of social preferences.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ultimatum game, inequity aversion, punishment, decision neuroscience, functional near-infrared spectroscopy
Language:English
Date:May 2018
Deposited On:06 Jun 2018 09:31
Last Modified:19 Aug 2018 15:54
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1749-5016
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsy020
Official URL:https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/13/5/513/4960119
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100014_165884
  • : Project TitleThe role of dopamine in value-based decision making

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