Model-based representational similarity analysis of blood-oxygen-level-dependent fMRI captures threat learning in social interactions

R Soc Open Sci. 2021 Nov 24;8(11):202116. doi: 10.1098/rsos.202116. eCollection 2021 Nov.


Past research has shown that attributions of intentions to other's actions determine how we experience these actions and their consequences. Yet, it is unknown how such attributions affect our learning and memory. Addressing this question, we combined neuroimaging with an interactive threat learning paradigm in which two interaction partners (confederates) made choices that had either threatening (shock) or safe (no shock) consequences for the participants. Importantly, participants were led to believe that one partner intentionally caused the delivery of shock, whereas the other did not (i.e. unintentional partner). Following intentional versus unintentional shocks, participants reported an inflated number of shocks and a greater increase in anger and vengeance. We applied a model-based representational similarity analysis to blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD)-MRI patterns during learning. Surprisingly, we did not find any effects of intentionality. The threat value of actions, however, was represented as a trial-by-trial increase in representational similarity in the insula and the inferior frontal gyrus. Our findings illustrate how neural pattern formation can be used to study a complex interaction.

Keywords: fMRI; intention; representational similarity analysis; social learning; threat learning.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5702034
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.k6djh9w58