• Research Progress
  • On August 1st 2016, PNAS online published a research paper entitled" Distinct oxytocin effects on belief updating in response to desirable and undesirable feedback " from Dr. Yina Ma's group (at the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, and IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Beijing Normal University). This study revealed the important role oxytocin (OT) played in optimistic belief formation and updating, and provided empirical support to our social adaptation model of oxytocin (which was published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Ma et al., 2016).
    Humans form and update their beliefs in an optimistic manner, i.e., people update desirable (better than expected) news into their beliefs but discount or ignore undesirable (worse than expected) news. Such optimistic bias serves as an advantageous mechanism for individuals’ social adaptation. The hypothalamic peptide OT is an evolutionarily ancient neuropeptide implicated in sociality and well-being and has been recently proposed as an important molecular substrate for social adaptation (Ma et al., 2016, TiCS). Thus this study examined the role of OT in belief updating upon desirable and undesirable feedback, to better understand the OT impact on social adaptation.
    We used a two-stage belief-updating task in a double-blind, placebo-controlled design to investigate OT impact on the dynamic processes of belief updating. Specifically, participants were asked to estimate likelihood of experiencing different adverse life events (e.g., cancer, obesity, unemployed) in the future before (stage 1) and after (stage 2) receiving feedback (the probability of each event occurring to an average person). We showed that intranasally administered OT (IN-OT) augmented optimistic belief updating by facilitating updates of desirable feedback but impairing updates of undesirable feedback. The IN-OT–induced impairment in belief updating upon undesirable feedback was more salient in individuals with high, rather than with low, depression or anxiety traits. IN-OT also increases participants’ confidence in their estimates after receiving desirable but not undesirable feedback, and the OT effect on confidence updating upon desirable feedback mediates the effect of IN-OT on optimistic belief updating. Our findings reveal distinct functional roles of OT in updating the first-order estimation and second-order confidence judgment in response to desirable and undesirable feedback, suggesting a molecular substrate for optimistic belief updating. These results fit well with the predictions of our social adaption model of OT function.
    This work was supported by startup funding from the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research; and Open Research Fund of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning.

    Paper link:
    Ma, Y., Li, S., Wang, C., Liu, Y., Li, W., Yan, X. Chen, Q., Han, S. (in press). Distinct oxytocin effects on belief updating in response to desirable and undesirable feedback. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.