From gratitude to injustice: Neurocomputational mechanisms of gratitude-induced injustice

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Academic Press-Elsevier

Gratitude shapes individuals' behaviours and impacts the harmony of society. Many previous studies focused on its association with prosocial behaviours. A possibility that gratitude can lead to moral violation has been overlooked until recently. Nevertheless, the neurocognitive mechanisms of gratitude-induced moral violation are still unclear. On the other hand, though neural correlates of the gratitude's formation have been examined, the neural underpinnings of gratitude-induced behaviour remain unknown. For addressing these two overlapped research gaps, we developed novel tasks to investigate how participants who had received voluntary (Gratitude group) or involuntary help (Control group) punished their benefactors' unfairness with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The Gratitude group punished their benefactors less than the Control group. The self-report and computational modelling results demonstrated a crucial role of the boosted protection tendency on behalf of benefactors in the gratitude-induced injustice. The fMRI results showed that activities in the regions associated with mentalizing (temporoparietal junction) and reward processing (ventral medial prefrontal cortex) differed between the groups and were related to the gratitude-induced injustice. They suggest that grateful individuals concern for benefactors' benefits, value chances to interact with benefactors, and refrain from action that perturbs relationship-building (i.e., exert less punishment on benefactors' unfairness), which reveal a dark side of gratitude and enrich the gratitude theory (i.e., the find-bind-remind theory). Our findings provide psychological, computational, and neural accounts of the gratitude-induced behaviour and further the understanding of the nature of gratitude.

Gratitude, Protection tendency, Injustice, Mentalizing, Reward processing