Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Sticking with the Nice Guy: Trait Warmth Information Impairs Learning and Modulates Person Perception Brain Network Activity

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Sticking with the Nice Guy: Trait Warmth Information Impairs Learning and Modulates Person Perception Brain Network Activity

Article excerpt

Published online: 13 May 2014

(Q> Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Social learning requires inferring social informa- tion about another person, as well as evaluating outcomes. Previous research shows that prior social information biases decision making and reduces reliance on striatal activity dur- ing learning (Delgado, Frank, & Phelps, Nature Neuroscience 8 (11): 1611-1618, 2005). A rich literature in social psychol- ogy on person perception demonstrates that people spontane- ously infer social information when viewing another person (Fiske & Taylor, 2013) and engage a network of brain regions, including the medial prefrontal cortex, temporal parietal junc- tion, superior temporal sulcus, and precuneus (Amodio & Frith, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(4), 268-277, 2006; Haxby, Gobbini, & Montgomery, 2004; van Overwalle Human Brain Mapping, 30, 829-858, 2009). We investigate the role of these brain regions during social learning about well-established dimensions of person perception-trait warmth and trait competence. We test the hypothesis that activity in person perception brain regions interacts with learning structures during social learning. Participants play an investment game where they must choose an agent to invest on their behalf. This choice is guided by cues signaling trait warmth or trait competence based on framing of mone- tary returns. Trait warmth information impairs learning about human but not computer agents, while trait competence infor- mation produces similar learning rates for human and com- puter agents. We see increased activation to warmth informa- tion about human agents in person perception brain regions. Interestingly, activity in person perception brain regions dur- ing the decision phase negatively predicts activity in the striatum during feedback for trait competence inferences about humans. These results suggest that social learning may engage additional processing within person perception brain regions that hampers learning in economic contexts.

Keywords Social learning * Person perception * Social cognition * Trait warmth/competence

Learning from the physical world and learning from the social world involve different levels of complex processing. Suppose that a person inserts one dollar into a slot machine that operates on probabilistic outcomes. There are two possible outcomes of this action-a positive gain of three dollars or a negative loss of the dollar. In this economic scenario, determining whether the action taken was a good decision depends singly on learning the probabilities of the slot machine, a process that will be guided by the person's goal to maximize profit. Now imagine a social interaction that depends on the same economic principles. Instead of a slot machine, a person gives another person (the receiver) one dollar. The possible economic outcomes are the same; the receiver can either return three dollars to the person or return nothing and the person loses the dollar. Although the premise of these two economic scenarios is the same, in the social scenario, the inferred traits of both parties in the exchange can influence the interpretation of the outcome (gain of three dollars or loss of one), making social learning more complex, or multiply determined.

Learning whether the investment was a good decision in the social scenario relies not only on the economic outcome of the exchange, but also on social factors relevant to the receiv- er, including his or her identity, goals, and inferred traits. Suppose the receiver is homeless versus one's friend; sudden- ly gaining three dollars may appear more or less positive, and losing one dollar may appear more or less negative, depending on the inferred traits of the receiver (e.g., a friend may be perceived as more trustworthy than a homeless person). Inferred traits provide a decision-maker with a concise schema for predicting another person's behavior and have the ability to change the interpretation of the outcome from singular to polymorphic (Uleman, Newman, & Moskowitz, 1996). …

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