Rational inferences about social valuation

Tadeg Quillien*, John Tooby, Leda Cosmides

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The decisions made by other people can contain information about the value they assign to our welfare—for example how much they are willing to sacrifice to make us better off. An emerging body of research suggests that we extract and use this information, responding more favorably to those who sacrifice more even if they provide us with less. The magnitude of their trade-offs governs our social responses to them—including partner choice, giving, and anger. This implies that people have well-designed cognitive mechanisms for estimating the weight someone else assigns to their welfare, even when the amounts at stake vary and the information is noisy or sparse. We tested this hypothesis in two studies (N=200; US samples) by asking participants to observe a partner make two trade-offs, and then predict the partner's decisions in other trials. Their predictions were compared to those of a model that uses statistically optimal procedures, operationalized as a Bayesian ideal observer. As predicted, (i) the estimates people made from sparse evidence matched those of the ideal observer, and (ii) lower welfare trade-offs elicited more anger from participants, even when their total payoffs were held constant. These results support the view that people efficiently update their representations of how much others value them. They also provide the most direct test to date of a key assumption of the recalibrational theory of anger: that anger is triggered by cues of low valuation, not by the infliction of costs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105566
Pages (from-to)1-12
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Computational modeling
  • Emotion
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Social cognition
  • Welfare trade-offs


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