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Social discounting of pain

  • Story, GW
  • Kurth-Nelson, Z
  • Crockett, M
  • Vlaev, I
  • Darzi, A
  • Dolan, RJ
Publication Date
Sep 04, 2020
Spiral - Imperial College Digital Repository
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Impatience can be formalized as a delay discount rate, describing how the subjective value of reward decreases as it is delayed. By analogy, selfishness can be formalized as a social discount rate, representing how the subjective value of rewarding another person decreases with increasing social distance. Delay and social discount rates for reward are correlated across individuals. However no previous work has examined whether this relationship also holds for aversive outcomes. Neither has previous work described a functional form for social discounting of pain in humans. This is a pertinent question, since preferences over aversive outcomes formally diverge from those for reward. We addressed this issue in an experiment in which healthy adult participants (N = 67) chose the timing and intensity of hypothetical pain for themselves and others. In keeping with previous studies, participants showed a strong preference for immediate over delayed pain. Participants showed greater concern for pain in close others than for their own pain, though this hyperaltruism was steeply discounted with increasing social distance. Impatience for pain and social discounting of pain were weakly correlated across individuals. Our results extend a link between impatience and selfishness to the aversive domain.

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