Subjective well-being or happiness is often associated with wealth. Recent studies suggest that momentary happiness is associated with reward prediction error, the difference between experienced and predicted reward, a key component of adaptive behaviour. We tested subjects in a reinforcement learning task in which reward size and probability were uncorrelated, allowing us to dissociate between the contributions of reward and learning to happiness. Using computational modelling, we found convergent evidence across stable and volatile learning tasks that happiness, like behaviour, is sensitive to learning-relevant variables (i.e., probability prediction error). Unlike behaviour, happiness is not sensitive to learning-irrelevant variables (i.e., reward prediction error). Increasing volatility reduces how many past trials influence behaviour but not happiness. Finally, depressive symptoms reduce happiness more in volatile than stable environments. Our results suggest that how we learn about our world may be more important for how we feel than the rewards we actually receive.
Data and code are available online (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1z3jYzJ7UL6Mr-eSQWq6nEWtBUunha17M?usp=sharing).
- Robb B Rutledge
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Human subjects: All subjects gave informed consent and the Research Ethics Committee of University College London approved the study study (Committee approval ID Number: 12673/001).
- Daeyeol Lee, Johns Hopkins University, United States
© 2020, Blain & Rutledge
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
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