Social transmission of threat evaluations and feelings of distress: Experimental and computational evidence.



We are constantly exposed to what others think and feel about content online, but it is unknown how others’ evaluations shared online influence our own beliefs and emotional responses. In two pre-registered studies, we investigated the social transmission of threat and safety evaluations using behavioral and computational measures. In Study 1 (N=103), participants first indicated how distressed images made them feel. They then categorized these images as threatening or safe for others to see, while seeing how previous participants ostensibly categorized these images. Computational modeling revealed that participants incorporated both peers’ categorizations of the images and their own distress ratings when categorizing images as threatening or safe. Study 2 (N=115) replicated these findings and further demonstrated that peers’ categorization led participants to shift their feelings of distress to these images. Our findings offer a mechanism for how people integrate their own and others’ experiences when exposed to emotional content online.  

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