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Social reinforcement learning as a predictor of real-life experiences in individuals with high and low depressive symptomatology

Frey, A.-L., Frank, M. J. and McCabe, C. (2019) Social reinforcement learning as a predictor of real-life experiences in individuals with high and low depressive symptomatology. Psychological Medicine. pp. 1-8. ISSN 1469-8978

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S0033291719003222


Background: Several studies have reported diminished learning from non-social outcomes in depressed individuals. However, it is not clear how depression impacts learning from social feedback. Notably, mood disorders are commonly associated with deficits in social functioning, which raises the possibility that potential impairments in social learning may negatively affect real-life social experiences in depressed subjects. Methods: Ninety-two participants with high (HD; N=40) and low (LD; N=52) depression scores were recruited. Subjects performed a learning task, during which they received monetary outcomes or social feedback which they were told came from other people. Additionally, participants answered questions about their everyday social experiences. Computational models were fit to the data and model parameters were related to social experience measures. Results: HD subjects reported a reduced quality and quantity of social experiences compared to LD controls, including an increase in the amount of time spent in negative social situations. Moreover, HD participants showed lower learning rates than LD subjects in the social condition of the task. Interestingly, across all participants, reduced social learning rates predicted higher amounts of time spent in negative social situations, even when depression scores were controlled for. Conclusion: These findings indicate that deficits in social learning may affect the quality of everyday social experiences. Specifically, the impaired ability to use social feedback to appropriately update future actions, which was observed in HD subjects, may lead to suboptimal interpersonal behavior in real life. This, in turn, may evoke negative feedback from others, thus bringing about more unpleasant social encounters.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:86893
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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