The Value and Utilization of Social Evaluative Feedback: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective
Rodman, Alexandra M.
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AbstractAdolescence is characterized by increased frequency of peer feedback, greater preoccupation with peer approval, and more intensified emotional responses to rejection than other phases of the lifespan. Of particular interest, prolonged or severe rejection has been linked to depression and suicide, and adolescents’ social sensitivity comes at a time when we see a sharp rise in the onset of psychiatric disorders. This dissertation aims to identify why adolescents are uniquely impacted by social evaluation by examining a) age-related differences in how peer feedback is used to update views of the self and of peers b) whether differential weighting of neural feedback signals to acceptance and rejection is associated with these shifts and c) whether adolescents are more motivated to seek out peer feedback than adults.
Results indicate that adolescents and adults perceive social evaluation in very different ways. After receiving equivalent rates of peer acceptance and rejection, adolescents demonstrated a feedback-induced decrease in self-views, whereas adults showed an increase in self-views. Meanwhile, adolescents maintained impressions of peers even after being rejected, while adults downgraded impressions of peers who rejected them (Paper 1). Using fMRI, we found that adolescents' tendency to experience a drop in self-views and adults' tendency to experience a boost was associated with asymmetrical neural feedback signaling in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a region broadly involved in self-referential processing. Specifically, adolescents exhibited increased vmPFC signaling for rejection, whereas adults showed increased vmPFC activation for acceptance. In addition, adults' tendency to subsequently update impressions of peers based on feedback was associated with greater activation for rejection compared to acceptance in the caudate, a region of the striatum broadly involved in feedback-based learning (Paper 2). In order to determine whether adolescents were more motivated to obtain peer feedback, the value of peer feedback was inferred via physical effort exertion using a hand dynamometer to measure grip strength. Findings revealed that adolescents exerted more effort than adults for peer feedback, regardless of whether they believed they would be accepted or rejected. Meanwhile, adults exerted less effort for peer feedback they believed would be rejection, suggesting that adults may selectively pursue feedback that reinforces positive self-views (Paper 3).
Together, these studies provide evidence that social evaluation is valued and utilized differently across age. Adults showed self-protective biases in how they sought, processed, and integrated peer feedback that preserved and enhanced positive self-views. Adolescents, on the other hand, pursued and internalized peer feedback in ways that may generally promote social learning, thereby maximizing social competence and group affiliation during this time of social reorientation. This work informs how normative development gives rise to adaptive social processes and may help explain why biased processing of social evaluation could render adolescents especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of rejection.
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