Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Problems responding to peer feedback and disrupted interpersonal relationships arise in numerous psychiatric disorders; yet heterogeneity and homogeneity across disorders suggests both common and unique mechanisms of impaired social function. Identifying brain correlates of these disruptions could help explain diagnostic comorbidities as well as unique pathways, thus informing more individualized treatments. However, studies seeking to understand the link between psychological and neural mechanisms often have to rely on reverse inference assumptions to match psychological processes to brain activity. One hypothesis is that social feedback is processed similar to other forms of feedback (e.g., monetary). Thus, we aimed to test such assumptions by examining the correspondence between the brain’s response to social acceptance and rejection and behavioral performance on a separate reward and loss task, as well as examine the relationship between these brain responses and depression and social anxiety severity. The sample consisted of 113 16–21-year-olds who received virtual peer acceptance or rejection feedback in an event-related potential (ERP) task. We used temporospatial principal component analysis to identify the reward positivity (RewP) and feedback negativity (FN) ERP components and measured the mean amplitude. Hypotheses were tested using multiple regression models, including covariates. Structural equation modeling was used to test the overall fit of all proposed hypotheses to the data. We did not find that the RewP to social acceptance was related to reward bias nor that the FN to social rejection related to loss avoidance, thus not supporting reverse inference assumptions. Moreover, we found a relationship between the RewP and depression severity that, while non-significant, was of a similar magnitude to prior studies. Finally, exploratory analyses showed a statistically significant relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and the RewP, as well as between SES and loss avoidance, and to a smaller extent SES and reward bias. These findings call into question reverse inference based assumptions of the function of the brain’s response to social feedback, while also suggesting a novel pathway for further study, whereby poverty may lead to depression via social and reward learning mechanisms.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Deanna Barch

Committee Members

Ryan Bogdan


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Available for download on Sunday, July 28, 2024

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