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Fliessbach, Klaus; Weber, Bernd; Trautner, P.; Dohmen, Thomas J.; Sunde, Uwe; Elger, C. E.; Falk, Armin (2007): Social comparison affects reward-related brain activity in the human ventral striatum. In: Science, Vol. 318, No. 5854: pp. 1305-1308
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Whether social comparison affects individual well-being is of central importance for understanding behavior in any social environment. Traditional economic theories focus on the role of absolute rewards, whereas behavioral evidence suggests that social comparisons influence well-being and decisions. We investigated the impact of social comparisons on reward-related brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While being scanned in two adjacent MRI scanners, pairs of subjects had to simultaneously perform a simple estimation task that entailed monetary rewards for correct answers. We show that a variation in the comparison subject’s payment affects blood oxygenation level - dependent responses in the ventral striatum. Our results provide neurophysiological evidence for the importance of social comparison on reward processing in the human brain.