People tend to incorporate desirable feedback into their beliefs but discount undesirable ones. Such optimistic updating has evolved as an advantageous mechanism for social adaptation and physical/mental health. Here, in three independent studies, we show that intranasally administered oxytocin (OT), an evolutionary ancient neuropeptide pivotal to social adaptation, augments optimistic belief updating by increasing updates and learning of desirable feedback but impairing updates of undesirable feedback. Moreover, the OT-impaired updating of undesirable feedback is more salient in individuals with high, rather than with low, depression or anxiety traits. OT also increases second-order confidence judgment after desirable feedback. These findings reveal a molecular substrate underlying the formation of optimistic beliefs about the future.Abstract
Humans update their beliefs upon feedback and, accordingly, modify their behaviors to adapt to the complex, changing social environment. However, people tend to incorporate desirable (better than expected) feedback into their beliefs but to discount undesirable (worse than expected) feedback. Such optimistic updating has evolved as an advantageous mechanism for social adaptation. Here, we examine the role of oxytocin (OT)―an evolutionary ancient neuropeptide pivotal for social adaptation―in belief updating upon desirable and undesirable feedback in three studies (n = 320). Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled between-subjects design, we show that intranasally administered OT (IN-OT) augments optimistic belief updating by facilitating updates of desirable feedback but impairing updates of undesirable feedback. The IN-OT–induced impairment in belief updating upon undesirable feedback is more salient in individuals with high, rather than with low, depression or anxiety traits. IN-OT selectively enhances learning rate (the strength of association between estimation error and subsequent update) of desirable feedback. IN-OT also increases participants’ confidence in their estimates after receiving desirable but not undesirable feedback, and the OT effect on confidence updating upon desirable feedback mediates the effect of IN-OT on optimistic belief updating. Our findings reveal distinct functional roles of OT in updating the first-order estimation and second-order confidence judgment in response to desirable and undesirable feedback, suggesting a molecular substrate for optimistic belief updating.