Dopamine and serotonin are hypothesized to guide social behaviours. In humans, however, we have not yet been able to study neuromodulator dynamics as social interaction unfolds. Here, we obtained subsecond estimates of dopamine and serotonin from human substantia nigra pars reticulata during the ultimatum game. Participants, who were patients with Parkinson’s disease undergoing awake brain surgery, had to accept or reject monetary offers of varying fairness from human and computer players. They rejected more offers in the human than the computer condition, an effect of social context associated with higher overall levels of dopamine but not serotonin. Regardless of the social context, relative changes in dopamine tracked trial-by-trial changes in offer value—akin to reward prediction errors—whereas serotonin tracked the current offer value. These results show that dopamine and serotonin fluctuations in one of the basal ganglia’s main output structures reflect distinct social context and value signals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-728
Number of pages11
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024


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