Subjective pain and reward in a social judgment paradigm

Judith Torzillo*, Selin Topel, Anita Harrewijn, Melle J.W. van der Molen, Frederik van der Veen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Affective problems such as social anxiety and depression theoretically involve negative cognitive biases that trigger and maintain symptoms during everyday experiences. This study employed a social judgment paradigm to investigate possible biases in expectation of social acceptance, and subjective feelings of pain and reward. Healthy adult participants (N = 120) were told their image had been judged by others. In 120 trials, they were shown photos of the judges and asked to anticipate whether they were liked by them or not, before being shown the judgment. Participants rated their level of pain and reward in each trial. Results indicated that social acceptance was expected less often by participants with higher levels of social anxiety. Self-reported pain was greatest after unexpected rejection. A greater likelihood of the presence of pain and higher self-reported pain were associated with higher levels of social anxiety and depression respectively. Self-reported reward was greatest after expected acceptance, and was not associated with social anxiety or depression. This study provides subjective experience information that has been missing from existing social judgment research. Moreover, these findings suggest that in social situations, those with social anxiety and depression more often expect rejection and experience rejection as more painful, respectively. These biases are potential maintaining factors and may be targets for further research and future intervention development.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jan 2024

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