Confirmation of Interpersonal Expectations is Intrinsically Rewarding

Published Date: 
June 25, 2021

People want to interact successfully with other individuals, and they invest significant efforts in attempting to do so. Decades of research have demonstrated that to simplify the dauntingly complex task of interpersonal communication, perceivers predict the responses of individuals in their environment using stereotypes and other sources of prior knowledge. Here, we show that these top-down expectations can also shape the subjective value of expectation-consistent and expectation-violating targets. Specifically, in two neuroimaging experiments (n = 58), we observed increased activation in brain regions associated with reward processing-including the nucleus accumbens-when perceivers observed information consistent with their social expectations. In two additional behavioral experiments (n = 704), we observed that perceivers were willing to forgo money to encounter an expectation-consistent target and avoid an expectation-violating target. Together, these findings suggest that perceivers value having their social expectations confirmed, much like food or monetary rewards.

Niv Regge, Anoushka Chowdhary, Jason P Mitchell