Human substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area involvement in computing social error signals during the ultimatum game


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Oxford University Press


As models of shared expectations, social norms play an essential role in our societies. Since our social environment is changing constantly, our internal models of it also need to change. In humans, there is mounting evidence that neural structures such as the insula and the ventral striatum are involved in detecting norm violation and updating internal models. However, because of methodological challenges, little is known about the possible involvement of midbrain structures in detecting norm violation and updating internal models of our norms. Here, we used high-resolution cardiacgated functional magnetic resonance imaging and a norm adaptation paradigm in healthy adults to investigate the role of the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA) complex in tracking signals related to norm violation that can be used to update internal norms. We show that the SN/VTA codes for the norm’s variance prediction error (PE) and norm PE with spatially distinct regions coding for negative and positive norm PE. These results point to a common role played by the SN/ VTA complex in supporting both simple reward-based and social decision making.



decision making, fMRI, prediction error, social neuroscience, ultimatum game