Momentary subjective well-being depends on learning and not reward

  1. Bastien Blain  Is a corresponding author
  2. Robb B Rutledge
  1. University College London, United Kingdom

Abstract

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 availability

Data and code are available online (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1z3jYzJ7UL6Mr-eSQWq6nEWtBUunha17M?usp=sharing).

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Bastien Blain

    Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    b.blain@ucl.ac.uk
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7735-6043
  2. Robb B Rutledge

    Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7337-5039

Funding

Medical Research Council (MR/N02401X/1)

  • Robb B Rutledge

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

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).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Daeyeol Lee, Johns Hopkins University, United States

Version history

  1. Received: April 17, 2020
  2. Accepted: November 16, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: November 17, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: December 22, 2020 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record updated: April 13, 2021 (version 3)

Copyright

© 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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  1. Bastien Blain
  2. Robb B Rutledge
(2020)
Momentary subjective well-being depends on learning and not reward
eLife 9:e57977.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.57977

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https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.57977

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