Friday, April 25, 2008

I have to praise you like I should

OR, why most people (in Japan, at least) do give a damn about their bad reputation.

MTV's Artist of the Week 04.21.08: Gossip

In the burgeoning field of neurorewardspotting, the equation is pretty simple:

Money = Chocolate = Sex = Fairness = Beauty = Punishing Bad Players = Alcohol = Cocaine = Nicotine = Methamphetamine = etc. AND NOW... acquiring a good reputation in the eyes of others.

So add the new paper by Izuma et al. (2008) to the growing list of studies claiming that all rewards are alike (at least, as far as the striatum is concerned).
Praise as good as cash to brain: study

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Paying people a compliment appears to activate the same reward center in the brain as paying them cash, Japanese researchers said on Wednesday.

They said the study offers scientific support for the long-held assumption that people get a psychological boost from having a good reputation.

"We found that these seemingly different kinds of rewards -- a good reputation versus money -- are biologically coded by the same neural structure, the striatum," said Dr. Norihiro Sadato of the Japanese National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Okazaki, Japan.
In brief, the authors say that
The goals of the present study were to investigate whether the acquisition of a good reputation activated reward-related brain areas, specifically the striatum, and, if so, whether this social reward activated the same reward circuitry as monetary rewards, as predicted by social exchange theory.
So there was a condition where people could win money (or not), and there was a condition where people could view positive labels beneath their photos (or not). The Social Reward Experiment is illustrated below.

Fig. 2A (Izuma et al., 2008). The sequence of events during a High Social Reward-Self trial. In a single HSR-Self trial (4 s), a picture of each subject was shown continuously and an item indicating the impressions of himself/herself made by others was shown below the picture for 3 s, during which each subject was asked to rate the desirability of the item.

Participants performed the gambling ($) task first, and at the end of the session, they filled out questionnaires, answered open-ended questions, and appeared in a 1 min video to introduce themselves. They were told that 8 people (4 men, 4 women) would rate them, using trait adjectives, based on the above material. Finally, they were asked to return on another day for the Social Reward Experiment.

Of course, the rating by a panel of 8 judges was all a ruse, and the experimenters instead had a list of 84 adjectives. Examples of the High Social Reward words (rated by a separate group of subjects as 7.5 on a 9 point scale) were Sincere, Honest, Understanding, Dependable, Open-minded, Earnest. Examples of the "Low Social Reward" words (which were actually pretty neutral, rated as 5.5) were Patient, Rational, Friendly, Individualistic. A few negative words like Timid and Conceited were included to maintain the ruse of evaluation by others, but two subjects saw through it anyway (they were excluded).

Fig. 2B (Izuma et al., 2008). Study design of the social reward experiment. A 2 × 3 factorial design was used (plus fixation rest blocks). In HSR blocks, the items presented were all clearly positive and desirable traits, whereas in LSR blocks the items were positive but less desirable, and some negative items (e.g., “selfish”) were included. Subjects viewed each item not only as impressions of themselves but also as impressions of other people. Regardless of the impression targets, the subjects were asked to rate the desirability of each item during scanning. In NoSR blocks, “XXX” was presented instead of an item, and the subjects were asked to press a button each time they saw it.

OK, so what were the results? If you guessed the striatum was activated by winning money and by receiving compliments, you would be right. However, the cash was more rewarding, apparently, since it activated most of the midbrain, thalamus, striatum, and insula (and even subcortical white matter!).

Fig. 4 (Izuma et al., 2008). Axial Slices Showing Areas Commonly Activated by Monetary and Social Rewards. Areas activated by monetary rewards are shown in green, and areas activated by social reward are shown in magenta. The contrast of HMR versus NoMR was used for the monetary reward activation map. The interaction contrast of (Self − Other) (HSR − NoSR) masked by (HMR − NoMR) was used for the social reward activation map.

Media coverage of these findings (and others, the air is just dripping with them these days) suggests that all pleasurable activities are interchangeable, which is clearly not the case. It's as if the rest of the brain doesn't matter. What I really want to know is why all of these rewarding activities are so so different (beyond mere sensory's that question of qualia again). One can derive pleasure from eating chocolate, looking at an attractive face, and punishing cheaters, and these activities might activate some of the same neural regions involved in processing reward, but don't go around saying they "activate the same brain circuitry" and that we're "hard-wired" to treat fairness and social status as rewards.


IZUMA, K., SAITO, D., SADATO, N. (2008). Processing of Social and Monetary Rewards in the Human Striatum. Neuron, 58(2), 284-294. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.03.020

Despite an increasing focus on the neural basis of human decision making in neuroscience, relatively little attention has been paid to decision making in social settings. Moreover, although human social decision making has been explored in a social psychology context, few neural explanations for the observed findings have been considered. To bridge this gap and improve models of human social decision making, we investigated whether acquiring a good reputation, which is an important incentive in human social behaviors, activates the same reward circuitry as monetary rewards. In total, 19 subjects participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments involving monetary and social rewards. The acquisition of one's good reputation robustly activated reward-related brain areas, notably the striatum, and these overlapped with the areas activated by monetary rewards. Our findings support the idea of a “common neural currency” for rewards and represent an important first step toward a neural explanation for complex human social behaviors.

We've come a long long way together,
Through the hard times and the good,
I have to celebrate you baby,
I have to praise you like I should

I have to praise you
I have to praise you
I have to praise you
I have to praise you like I should

Praise You
------Fatboy Slim

And in case you were wondering, here's How to Fix a Bad Reputation.

If that doesn't work, trying Standing in the Way of Control...

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At April 26, 2008 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ouch, Neurocritic! You used the Q-word in this post. My long term policy has been to bail on any lecture where the q-word gets used more than twice In this case, I think it suffices to point out that chocolate and sex (and building a good reputation) are not the same because they are not directly substitutable for each other. Then you are less likely to get roving bands of unemployed philosophers descending on this blog arguing about what the q-word really, really refers to.

At April 26, 2008 8:55 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

I suppose I meant the small q colloquial qualia, rather than the large Q philosophical Qualia. Thanks for clearing that up.

But some of the most ridiculous press coverage does seem to imply that fairness and money and chocolate are directly substitutable for each other:

Brain reacts to fairness as it does to money and chocolate

The human brain responds to being treated fairly the same way it responds to winning money and eating chocolate, UCLA scientists report. Being treated fairly turns on the brain's reward circuitry.

"We may be hard-wired to treat fairness as a reward," said study co-author Matthew D. Lieberman...


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