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Prediction-error in the context of real social relationships modulates reward system activity.

  • Author(s): Poore, Joshua C;
  • Pfeifer, Jennifer H;
  • Berkman, Elliot T;
  • Inagaki, Tristen K;
  • Welborn, Benjamin L;
  • Lieberman, Matthew D
  • et al.

The human reward system is sensitive to both social (e.g., validation) and non-social rewards (e.g., money) and is likely integral for relationship development and reputation building. However, data is sparse on the question of whether implicit social reward processing meaningfully contributes to explicit social representations such as trust and attachment security in pre-existing relationships. This event-related fMRI experiment examined reward system prediction-error activity in response to a potent social reward-social validation-and this activity's relation to both attachment security and trust in the context of real romantic relationships. During the experiment, participants' expectations for their romantic partners' positive regard of them were confirmed (validated) or violated, in either positive or negative directions. Primary analyses were conducted using predefined regions of interest, the locations of which were taken from previously published research. Results indicate that activity for mid-brain and striatal reward system regions of interest was modulated by social reward expectation violation in ways consistent with prior research on reward prediction-error. Additionally, activity in the striatum during viewing of disconfirmatory information was associated with both increases in post-scan reports of attachment anxiety and decreases in post-scan trust, a finding that follows directly from representational models of attachment and trust.

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