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You are here: Home Publications CENs Bibliography Spreading inequality: Neural computations underlying paying-it-forward reciprocity

Yang Hu, Lisheng He, Lei Zhang, Thorben Wölk, Jean C Dreher, and Bernd Weber (2018)

Spreading inequality: Neural computations underlying paying-it-forward reciprocity

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(6):578--589.

People tend to pay the generosity they receive from a person forward to someone else even if they have no chance to reciprocate directly. This phenomenon, known as paying-it-forward (PIF) reciprocity, crucially contributes to the maintenance of a cooperative human society by passing kindness among strangers and has been widely studied in evolutionary biology. To further examine its neural implementation and underlying computations, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) together with computational modeling. In a modified PIF paradigm, participants first received a monetary split (i.e., greedy, equal, or generous) from either a human partner or a computer. They then chose between two options involving additional amounts of money to be allocated between themselves and an uninvolved person. Behaviorally, people forward the previously-received greed/generosity towards a third person. The social impact of previous treatments is integrated into computational signals in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ) during subsequent decision making. Our findings provide insights to understand the proximal origin of PIF reciprocity.

Inequality, Model-based fMRI, Paying-it-forward (PIF) reciprocity, Right temporoparietal junction (TPJ), Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)
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