Social Rewards: From Basic Social Building Blocks to Complex Social Behavior

Diana I. Tamir, Brent L. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Humans are social creatures, engaging almost constantly in social behaviors that serve ultimate social goals, such as forming strong bonds with one another. However, most social behaviors provide only incremental progress toward an ultimate goal. Instead, the drive to engage in any individual social act may derive from its proximal value rather than its ultimate goal. Thus, this proximal value forms the foundation on which the complexities of human sociality are built. We describe two complementary approaches for using proximal social rewards to understand social behaviors and their ultimate goals: (a) decontextualizing social rewards—paring down complex social interactions can help identify which basic building blocks remain valuable even in minimalistic contexts—and (b) recontextualizing social rewards—reintroducing motivational and contextual factors into the study of social experience can help identify how proximal rewards serve their ultimate function. We discuss how this dual-approach framework can inform future research by bridging basic social building blocks and real-world social goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)700-717
Number of pages18
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • goals
  • motivation
  • neuroscience
  • reward
  • social cognition


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