This is one of those experiments that give credence to an intuitive feeling, one that’s consistent with a philosophical/spiritual perspective but we often ignore when we want to extract value from others, for our material benefit. The study, conducted by NYU researchers, found that people’s impressions of others’ character is a more important factor than what they might be able to do for us, when making decisions about them.
The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, contradicts the conventional thinking that when we learn from positive or negative feedback in our interactions with people, we make conclusions based on the benefits they bring us – their “reward value.”
As so often the case, “conventional” thinking,” is often based more on assumptions than on evidence. As this study’s lead author Leor Hackel explains, “When we learn and make decisions about people, we don’t simply look at the positive or negative outcomes they bring to us—such as whether they gave us a loan or helped us move. Instead, we often… form trait impressions, such as how generous a person seems to be, and these impressions carry more weight in our future social decisions.”
In the experiment, participants made a series of “reward-based” decisions while their neural activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants learned about other people in a series of interactions in an economic game played over the computer. Part of the study examined whether participants learned the relatively generosity of a player—a “trait impression”—in addition to learning the monetary worth of the player. The researchers’ statistical tests showed that participants learned generosity information more strongly than reward value.
After the experiment, described in detail here, participants were asked to choose which players they would prefer to interact with in a future cooperative task. The researchers found that their preferences were strongly guided by their trait impressions of players, relative to a player’s reward value. According to David Amodio, one of the researchers, “In other words, our results show that people naturally see others and even objects in terms of more general characteristics—and not just in terms of mere reward value.”
Credit: CPD Archive