Neural correlates of reinforcement learning and social preferences in competitive bidding

Wouter van den Bos, Arjun Talwar, Samuel M. McClure

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


In competitive social environments, people often deviate from what rational choice theory prescribes, resulting in losses or suboptimal monetary gains. We investigate how competition affects learning and decision-making in a common value auction task. During the experiment, groups of five human participants were simultaneously scanned using MRI while playing the auction task. We first demonstrate that bidding is well characterized by reinforcement learning with biased reward representations dependent on social preferences. Indicative of reinforcement learning, we found that estimated trial-by-trial prediction errors correlated with activity in the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Additionally, we found that individual differences in social preferences were related to activity in the temporal-parietal junction and anterior insula. Connectivity analyses suggest that monetary and social value signals are integrated in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and striatum. Based on these results, we argue for a novel mechanistic account for the integration of reinforcement history and social preferences in competitive decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2137-2146
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 30 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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