Predictability influences whether outcomes are processed in terms of original or relative values

Zeng, Jianmin and Cao, Zhipeng and Huang, Jiajin and Hitchman, Glenn and Zhang, Qinglin
Brain and cognition, 90: 1—7, 2014

Previous studies have provided insights into the representations of original and relative values and the influence of predictability on decision making. However, whether the predictability of outcomes can influence the processing manner of outcomes (i.e. whether the outcomes are processed in terms of original or relative values) is still unknown. To investigate this issue, we had participants perform a monetary decision task which resulted in two outcomes with the same relative values but different original values in either a predictable or unpredictable condition, while recording event-related potentials (ERP). ERP results showed that the outcome processing in the unpredictable condition elicited more positive deflections in the time window of 300–500 ms (P300) than did those in the predictable condition. More importantly, the outcome with high original value elicited a greater P300 component than did that with low original value in the unpredictable condition even though these two outcomes had the same relative values, while in the predictable condition no significant difference was observed between ERPs elicited by the two outcomes even though their original values were different. These results suggest that the outcomes might be processed in terms of relative values in the predictable condition but original values in the unpredictable condition.