Medial prefrontal cortex and striatum mediate the influence of social comparison on the decision process

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16044-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1100892108. Epub 2011 Sep 6.


We compared private and social decision making to investigate the neural underpinnings of the effect of social comparison on risky choices. We measured brain activity using functional MRI while participants chose between two lotteries: in the private condition, they observed the outcome of the unchosen lottery, and in the social condition, the outcome of the lottery chosen by another person. The striatum, a reward-related brain structure, showed higher activity when participants won more than their counterpart (social gains) compared with winning in isolation and lower activity when they won less than their counterpart (social loss) compared with private loss. The medial prefrontal cortex, implicated in social reasoning, was more activated by social gains than all other events. Sensitivity to social gains influenced both brain activity and behavior during subsequent choices. Specifically, striatal activity associated with social gains predicted medial prefrontal cortex activity during social choices, and experienced social gains induced more risky and competitive behavior in later trials. These results show that interplay between reward and social reasoning networks mediates the influence of social comparison on the decision process.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Brain Mapping
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / anatomy & histology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Gambling
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reward
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult