Thursday, March 06, 2014

social cognition and social decision-making

frontiersinneuroscience |  Is social decision-making unique? How does it differ from non-social decision-making? The answers to these questions have been of interest to researchers in a variety of fields including social psychology and behavioral economics. Combining these literatures can help us understand the answers to these questions. Economists originally believed that social decision-making was not different from non-social decision-making and tried to model social decisions with traditional economic models. However, after the influential paper by Tversky and Kahneman (1974) demonstrating heuristics and biases affecting decision-making, it became apparent that the decision-making process is not as rational as we may have originally thought. Psychologists have long believed that social cognition is important for predicting the actions of others and that humans are different from objects in some very important ways. More recently, brain-imaging studies have highlighted these differences, with a network of brain regions responding to social stimuli and social cognitive processes that presumably affect social decision-making. Investigations of social decisions have also highlighted the effects of social information on decision-making processes within brain regions like the striatum and MPFC. Although both social and non-social agents engage these brain regions, the social context modulates this activity. The use of mathematical models suggests that both social neuroscience and neuroeconomics studies have each been tapping into different processes. Initial impressions allow for predictions that guide decision-making. These impressions then interact with feedback processing and affect how predictions are updated.

In economics, behavioral game theorists recognize that people's beliefs about others matter when modeling social decisions. The models assume that players strategically choose options that maximize utility, and evaluations of payoff options often include social factors beyond pure economic payout (Camerer, 2009). These social factors may include other-regarding preferences, indicating that people care about the well-being of other players (Fehr, 2009). Whether decisions are made in order to increase the well-being of others or manage the impression formed of oneself, mental state inferences are still relevant. For instance, one may assess well-being by inferring the mental state of the person. Similarly, the extent to which one infers the mental state of a person may influence the extent to which other-regarding preferences influence decisions (e.g., do people show other-regarding preferences for traditionally dehumanized targets?).

Humans evolved in a social context in which interacting with other people was essential for survival. As such, these social cognitive processes have been evolutionarily preserved and continue to affect our decision-making in a social context. The fact that human agents engage different brain regions than computer agents should perhaps not be all that surprising. The social brain did not evolve interacting with computers or other types of machines. Therefore, we see differences not only in behavior (most of the time) but also differences in brain activity for these two inherently different types agents. Here we have highlighted that these differences lie in engagement of the social cognition/person perception brain regions for human agents. But the underlying mechanisms—the social processes that engage these brain regions and how they interact with decision-making processes—are still being investigated. Social psychological theory can help answer these questions by providing a theoretical background for why human and computers differ in the first place (e.g., mental state inferences, impression management, etc). Keeping this fact in mind will provide future research on social decision-making with the most informed and cohesive theories.

Finally, decisions are made in a social context everyday. Whether deciding to do a favor for a friend or close a deal with a potential business partner, decisions have consequences that lead to significant rewards and punishments such as a better relationship with the friend or a poor business transaction. Therefore, it is important to understand how decisions are influenced by the presence or absence of others and how we incorporate social information into our decision-making process. Here we have highlighted differences arising when interacting with human and computer agents and use social psychological theory to provide some explanation for why these differences arise. It is important to point out these differences in social and non-social decision-making because interactions with computers and other machines are becoming more widespread. Businesses often try to find ways to simplify transactions, often replacing human agents with automated computers. However, the decisions made with these different types of agents may affect businesses in unanticipated ways. Financial decisions (e.g., buying and selling stock) are increasingly made through the use of online computers, whereas previously investors had to interact with stockbrokers in an investment firm. Similarly people are able to bid in online auctions for a desired item rather than sitting in a room full of people holding numbered paddles. The decisions to buy and sell stock or possibly overbid in an online auction may be influenced by these different agents, as evidenced by the research described above.


Ed Dunn said...

This is not only low class workers, but many IT workers got caught up in that also. They go over there, then the next thing, they have "scope creep" and "owe money" and have to pay it back and can't leave....

CNu said...

Not many plantations in Missouri. So..., the predominant modality of slave revenue generation came in the form of "slave leasing". Leased slaves by-and-large had advanced vocational skills, and consequently, their labor value was higher than just low-skill workers and exceptionally competitive with the free skilled trades with whom their "owners" directly sought to compete.