Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Soc Neurosci. 2022 Apr;17(2):170-180. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2022.2050295

Cardiac deceleration following positive and negative feedback is influenced by competence-based social status

Previous studies indicate that neurophysiological signatures of feedback processing might be enhanced when participants are assigned a low-status position. Error commission and negative feedback can evoke responses in the peripheral (autonomic) nervous system including heart rate deceleration. We conducted an exploratory study to investigate whether such activity can be modulated by the participant's social status in a competence-based hierarchy. Participants were engaged in a cooperative time estimation task with two same-gender confederates. On each trial, they were provided with positive or negative feedback depending on their time estimation performance. Their social status varied during the task, so that they were either at the top (high-status) or at the bottom (low-status) of the hierarchy in different blocks. Results showed that cardiac deceleration was significantly modulated by feedback valence in the high-status but not in the low-status condition. We interpret this result as an increased activation of the performance monitoring system elicited by the desire to maintain a high-status position in an unstable hierarchy. In this vein, negative feedback might be processed as an aversive stimulus that signals a threat to the acquired status.

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