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Vickrey auctions (VA) and Becker-DeGroot-Marschak auctions (BDM) are strategically equivalent demand-revealing mechanisms, differentiated only by a human opponent in the VA, and a random-number-generator opponent in the BDM. Game parameters are such that players are incentivized to reveal their private subjective values (SV) and behavior should be identical in both tasks. However, this has been repeatedly shown not to be the case. In this study, the neural correlates of outcome feedback processing during VA and BDM were directly compared using electroencephalography. Twenty-eight healthy participants bid for household products which were then divided into high- and low-SV categories. The VA included a human opponent deception to induce a social environment, while in reality a random-number-generator was used in both tasks. A P3 component peaking at 336 ms over midline parietal sites showed more positive amplitudes for high bid values, and for win outcomes in the VA but not the BDM. Both auctions also elicited a Reward Positivity potential, maximal at 275 ms along the central midline electrodes, that was not modulated by auction task or SV. Further, an exploratory N170 potential in the right occipitotemporal electrodes and a vertex positive potential component were stronger in the VA relative to the BDM. Results point to an enhanced cortical response to bid outcomes during VA task in a potential component associated with emotional control, and to the occurrence of face-sensitive potentials in VA but not in BDM auction. These findings suggest modulation of bid outcome processing by the social-competitive aspect of auction tasks. Directly comparing two prominent auction paradigms affords the opportunity to isolate the impact of social environment on competitive, risky decision-making. Findings suggest that feedback processing as early as 176 ms is facilitated by the presence of a human competitor, and later processing is modulated by social context and subjective value.

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Journal article



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EEG, N170, P3, RewP, reward, subjective value, willingness-to-pay