People make decisions based on deviations from expected outcomes, known as prediction errors. Past work has focused on reward prediction errors, largely ignoring violations of expected emotional experiences—emotion prediction errors. We leverage a method to measure real-time fluctuations in emotion as people decide to punish or forgive others. Across four studies (N = 1,016), we reveal that emotion and reward prediction errors have distinguishable contributions to choice, such that emotion prediction errors exert the strongest impact during decision-making. We additionally find that a choice to punish or forgive can be decoded in less than a second from an evolving emotional response, suggesting that emotions swiftly influence choice. Finally, individuals reporting significant levels of depression exhibit selective impairments in using emotion—but not reward—prediction errors. Evidence for emotion prediction errors potently guiding social behaviours challenge standard decision-making models that have focused solely on reward.
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A probabilistic map of emotional experiences during competitive social interactions
Nature Communications Open Access 31 March 2022
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Experiment materials information and all experiment de-identified data are publicly available at https://github.com/jpheffne/epe. The materials used in this study are widely available.
Data analysis script notebooks are publicly available at https://github.com/jpheffne/epe.
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The authors thank H. Fan for assistance in running participants for experiment 3, and M. Frank, V. Murty, A. Shenhav and M. Nassar for insightful feedback and comments on early manuscript drafts. The research was funded by a Center of Biological Research Excellence grant P20GM103645 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences awarded to O.F.H. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests
Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Bernard Balleine and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Supplementary Methods, Results, Tables 1–23, Figs. 1–18 and References.
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Heffner, J., Son, JY. & FeldmanHall, O. Emotion prediction errors guide socially adaptive behaviour. Nat Hum Behav 5, 1391–1401 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01213-6
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