Associative Learning of Social Value in Dynamic Groups

Oriel FeldmanHall, Joseph E. Dunsmoor, Marijn C.W. Kroes, Sandra Lackovic, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although humans live in societies that regularly demand engaging with multiple people simultaneously, little is known about social learning in group settings. In two experiments, we combined a Pavlovian learning framework with dyadic economic games to test whether blocking mechanisms support value-based social learning in the gain (altruistic dictators) and loss (greedy robbers) domains. Subjects first learned about an altruistic dictator, who subsequently made altruistic splits collectively with a partner. Results revealed that because the presence of the dictator already predicted the outcome, subjects did not learn to associate value with the partner. This social blocking effect was not observed in the loss domain: A kind robber’s partner, who could steal all the subjects’ money but stole little, acquired highly positive value—which biased subjects’ subsequent behavior. These findings reveal how Pavlovian mechanisms support efficient social learning, while also demonstrating that violations of social expectations can attenuate how readily these mechanisms are recruited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1160-1170
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Pavlovian blocking
  • classical conditioning
  • open data
  • social learning
  • social value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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