Norm compliance affects perceptual decisions through modulation of a starting point bias

R Soc Open Sci. 2018 Mar 28;5(3):171268. doi: 10.1098/rsos.171268. eCollection 2018 Mar.


Adaptive decisions in social contexts depend on both perceptual information and social expectations or norms. These are potentially in conflict when certain choices are beneficial for an individual, but societal rules mandate a different course of action. To resolve such a conflict, the reliability of information has to be balanced against potentially deleterious effects of non-compliance such as ostracism. In this study, we systematically investigated how interactions between perceptual and social influences affect decision-relevant cognitive processes. In a direction-of-motion discrimination task, participants received perceptual information alongside information on other players' choices. In addition, we created conflict scenarios where players' choices affected other participants' monetary rewards dependent on whether their choices were in line or against the opinion of the other players. Importantly, we altered the strength of this manipulation in two separate experiments by contrasting motivations of either preventing harm or providing a benefit to others. Behavioural analyses and computational models of perceptual decisions showed that participants successfully integrated perceptual with social information. Participants' reliance on social information was effectively modulated in conflict situations. Critically, these effects were augmented when the strength of social norms was increased, indexing conditions under which social norms effectively influence decisions. These results inform theories of social influence by providing an account of how higher order goals like social norm compliance affect perceptual decisions.

Keywords: conformity; decision-making; drift-diffusion models; norms; social influence; social information.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4035224