Pupillary Responses to Faces Are Modulated by Familiarity and Rewarding Context

Magdalena Matyjek, Mareike Bayer, Isabel Dziobek
2021 Brain Sciences  
Observing familiar (known, recognisable) and socially relevant (personally important) faces elicits activation in the brain's reward circuit. Although smiling faces are often used as social rewards in research, it is firstly unclear whether familiarity and social relevance modulate the processing of faces differently, and secondly whether this processing depends on the feedback context, i.e., if it is different when smiles are delivered depending on performance or in the absence of any action
more » ... nce of any action (passive viewing). In this preregistered study, we compared pupillary responses to smiling faces differing in subjective familiarity and social relevance. They were displayed in a passive viewing task and in an active task (a speeded visual short-term memory task). The pupils were affected only in the active task and only by subjective familiarity. Contrary to expectations, smaller dilations were observed in response to more familiar faces. Behavioural ratings supported the superior rewarding context of the active task, with higher reward ratings for the game than the passive task. This study offers two major insights. Firstly, familiarity plays a role in the processing of social rewards, as known and unknown faces influence the autonomic responses differently. Secondly, the feedback context is crucial in reward research as positive stimuli are rewarding when they are dependent on performance.
doi:10.3390/brainsci11060794 fatcat:d6k45ioqzffdrk63u3b2zqfzjm