Study: Does Guilt Promote Cooperative Behavior?

28 May, 2011 at 08:05 | Posted in Body & Mind, Science | Leave a comment
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By Cassie Ryan
Epoch Times Staff

Social decision making behavior could be based on a compromise between personal gain and feelings of guilt, according to a new study published in the journal Neuron.

The notion of cooperation at personal cost is a problem that has vexed classical economics, which holds that people are solely motivated by self-interest. However, it cannot explain why people cooperate in spite of costs such as time, money, and stress.

Possible explanations could be that giving feels inherently good, or alternatively that being selfish makes people feel bad so they cooperate to avert their guilt.

A research team comprising cognitive neuroscientists and economists studied a group of 30 volunteers who played the trust game in which player 1, the investor, had to decide how much money to award to player 2, the trustee.

This behavior in turn elicited expectations in the trustee about how much the investor expected to receive back. The trustees were then scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine which areas of the brain were involved while they decided how much money to return to investors, i.e. whether or not to honor their partner’s trust.

The results of the study fit a model wherein the decision maximized financial reward while minimizing anticipated guilt. When trustees matched investors’ expectations, regions of the brain associated with negative effect and sympathy were active, whereas when they gave less than expected, the brain regions involved with value and monetary reward were in use.

“We believe these results are exciting because they provide support for the theory of moral sentiments, in which people appear to have competing motivations to, on the one hand, minimize the experience of future guilt, and on the other, to maximize the financial reward,” said co-author Alan Sanfey from Donders Institute for Brain, Mind & Behavior at Radboud University Nijmegen, Holland, in a supplementary video accompanying the paper.

“This provides good evidence in our opinion that negative emotions such as guilt can also be responsible for cooperative behavior, and provide additional important clues as to why we often cooperate at a personal cost,” he added.

The team concluded a neural system associated with “expectation processing plays a critical role in assessing moral sentiments that in turn can sustain human cooperation in the face of temptation,” the abstract reads.

via Study: Does Guilt Promote Cooperative Behavior? | Science | Epoch Times


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