The role of cognitive control in prosocial behavior – Investigating the neural foundations of retribution and forgiveness

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2021-10-28
Language: English
Faculty: 4 Medizinische Fakultät
Department: Graduiertenkollegs
Advisor: Fallgatter, Andreas J. (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2019-10-28
DDC Classifikation: 150 - Psychology
Keywords: Psychologie
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Forgiveness is a highly relevant ability for a satisfied life with long-lasting relationships. It is hypothesized that cognitive control enables forgiveness through the inhibition of baser revenge seeking feelings. For investigating the exact underlying mechanisms, a set of four studies was run. In order to study the ability to forgive, the participants first played an ultimatum game, in which they learned that some opponents are fair and some are unfair. Following this implicit learning experience the roles were changed and in a subsequent dictator game the participants had to split up money between themselves and the opponents of the previous game. Regarding the previously unfair opponents they had to decide if they wanted to forgive (with allocating a fair amount of money) or to take revenge (with allocating an unfair amount of money). This paradigm sequence was combined in a first study with inhibitory theta-burst stimulation of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), resulting in the causal conclusion that cognitive control is needed for forgiveness processes as after the stimulation the participants were significantly more revenge seeking. In another study, participants with high and low cognitive control were compared. Participants with low cognitive control were significantly more revenge seeking, whereas, participants with high cognitive control were less revenge seeking. Concluding from the results of a regression analysis this difference was (partly) caused by different emotional foundations of the behavior, with sympathy as a relevant factor in the high cognitive control group and revenge in the low cognitive control group. In a third study the gaming paradigms (ultimatum game and dictator game) were used in combination with activating theta-burst stimulation of the right DLPFC in a highly impulsive group which is known to be more revenge seeking than the average. With higher activation in the right DLPFC it was not possible to increase the forgiveness behavior towards the unfair opponents. Surprisingly, the activating neuromodulation increased the generosity towards fair opponents. In an additional study with a different paradigm the ability of emotion regulation (which is assumed to be a key player in forgiveness processes) in participants with low vs. high cognitive control was measured. It was shown that participants with low cognitive control failed, especially in implicit emotion regulation which is essential for daily life forgiveness processes. Based on these results a forgiveness model is proposed. According to this model the probability to forgive a wrongdoer is influenced by cultural/cognitive response tendencies and state/trait emotional tendencies. Cognitive control especially, but also the experienced emotions play a crucial role in forgiveness processes according to this model.

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