February 27, 2021

The aversive value of pain in human decision-making

According to basic utilitarian principles, people should try to maximize rewards and minimize pain. Here, participants were put in a situation where monetary rewards were paired to electric shocks spanning between pain detection and tolerance thresholds. Monetary offers ranged linearly from $0 to $5 or $10 in Group1 and 2, respectively, and exponentially from $0 to $5 in Group3. The value of pain increased quadratically as a function of the anticipated pain intensity. While increasing the range of monetary offers increased the price requested to accept pain, skewing the distribution of rewards encouraged profit maximization. Participants scoring higher on harm avoidance and lower on persistence scales requested more money to accept pain. Accepting highly painful offers slowed decisions regardless of the value of the concurrent reward. Altogether, pain-related decisions are highly relative to the local range of available rewards and may be under the control of more automatic avoidance mechanisms.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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