Internal control beliefs shape positive affect and associated neural dynamics during outcome valuation


Experiencing events as controllable is essential for human well-being. Based on classic psychological theory, we test how internal control beliefs impact the affective valuation of task outcomes, neural dynamics and ensuing behavioral preferences. In three consecutive studies we show that dynamics in positive affect increase, with a qualitative shift towards self-evaluative pride, when agents believe they caused a given outcome. We demonstrate that these outcomes engage brain networks processing self-referential information in the cortical midline. Here, activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex tracks outcome valence regarding both success as well as internal control, and covaries with positive affect in response to outcomes. These affective dynamics also relate to increased functional coupling between the ventral striatum and cortical midline structures. Finally, we show that pride predicts preferences for control, even at monetary costs. Our investigations extend recent models of positive affect and well-being, and emphasize that control beliefs drive intrinsic motivation.


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