A boost in self-esteem after positive social evaluation predicts social and non-social learning

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Royal Society Open Science


Fluctuations in self-esteem resulting from social acceptance and rejection could guide social behaviour by putting us in a state that is more or less open to social experiences. However, it remains unclear whether social acceptance and rejection may shape learning from social information depending on individual differences in self-esteem changes. Here we used a social feedback paradigm to manipulate social acceptance and rejection in a between-subjects design. Subsequently, we administered a behavioural task that enables the assessment of how well individuals learn on the basis of own experiences versus social information. Participants receiving positive (N = 43) versus negative (N = 44) social evaluation demonstrated an increase in subjective self-esteem. Importantly, the effect of the social evaluation on social learning was moderated by self-esteem changes. Specifically, an increase in self-esteem, as induced by positive evaluation, was associated with increased learning from social, but decreased learning from individual information. A decrease in self-esteem in response to negative evaluation was associated with decreased learning from individual information. These data suggest that increases in self-esteem in response to positive evaluation can induce a shift in the inclination to use social versus non-social information and may open one up to constructive learning from others.

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