The personality trait of behavioral inhibition modulates perceptions of moral character and performance during the trust game: behavioral results and computational modeling

PeerJ. 2016 Feb 8;4:e1631. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1631. eCollection 2016.


Decisions based on trust are critical for human social interaction. We judge the trustworthiness of partners in social interactions based on a number of partner characteristics as well as experiences with those partners. These decisions are also influenced by personality. The current study examined how the personality trait of behavioral inhibition, which involves the tendency to avoid or withdraw from novelty in both social and non-social situations, is related to explicit ratings of trustworthiness as well as decisions made in the trust game. In the game, healthy young adults interacted with three fictional partners who were portrayed as trustworthy, untrustworthy or neutral through biographical information. Participants could choose to keep $1 or send $3 of virtual money to a partner. The partner could then choose to send $1.5 back to the participant or to keep the entire amount. On any trial in which the participant chose to send, the partner always reciprocated with 50% probability, irrespective of how that partner was portrayed in the biography. Behavioral inhibition was assessed through a self-report questionnaire. Finally, a reinforcement learning computational model was fit to the behavior of each participant. Self-reported ratings of trust confirmed that all participants, irrespective of behavioral inhibition, perceived differences in the moral character of the three partners (trustworthiness of good > neutral > bad partner). Decisions made in the game showed that inhibited participants tended to trust the neutral partner less than uninhibited participants. In contrast, this was not reflected in the ratings of the neutral partner (either pre- or post-game), indicating a dissociation between ratings of trustworthiness and decisions made by inhibited participants. Computational modeling showed that this was due to lower initial trust of the neutral partner rather than a higher learning rate associated with loss, suggesting an implicit bias against the neutral partner. Overall, the results suggest inhibited individuals may be predisposed to interpret neutral or ambiguous information more negatively which could, at least in part, account for the tendency to avoid unfamiliar people characteristic of behaviorally inhibited temperament, as well as its relationship to anxiety disorders.

Keywords: Behavioral inhibition; Computational model; Decision making; Reinforcement learning; Trust game; Trustworthiness.