Friday, December 14, 2012

Brain imaging of the positive bias we place on social feedback.

Continuing the social brain thread started by yesterday's post, I pass on this piece by Korn et al. showing brain correlates of the rose colored glasses we put on interpreting social feedback from others. Participants in the study rated how much 40 positive and 40 negative trait adjectives applied to themselves and to one other person before and after receiving feedback ratings of themselves. The critical test for positively biased updating was finding that the changes toward desirable feedback were larger than the changes toward undesirable feedback. Here is their abstract:

Receiving social feedback such as praise or blame for one's character traits is a key component of everyday human interactions. It has been proposed that humans are positively biased when integrating social feedback into their self-concept. However, a mechanistic description of how humans process self-relevant feedback is lacking. Here, participants received feedback from peers after a real-life interaction. Participants processed feedback in a positively biased way, i.e., they changed their self-evaluations more toward desirable than toward undesirable feedback. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we investigated two feedback components. First, the reward-related component correlated with activity in ventral striatum and in anterior cingulate cortex/medial prefrontal cortex (ACC/MPFC). Second, the comparison-related component correlated with activity in the mentalizing network, including the MPFC, the temporoparietal junction, the superior temporal sulcus, the temporal pole, and the inferior frontal gyrus. This comparison-related activity within the mentalizing system has a parsimonious interpretation, i.e., activity correlated with the differences between participants' own evaluation and feedback. Importantly, activity within the MPFC that integrated reward-related and comparison-related components predicted the self-related positive updating bias across participants offering a mechanistic account of positively biased feedback processing. Thus, theories on both reward and mentalizing are important for a better understanding of how social information is integrated into the human self-concept.

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