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Front. Behav. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00223

Disinhibited Revenge – an fNIRS Study on Forgiveness and Cognitive Control

  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Tübingen, Germany
  • 2University of Tübingen, Germany
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Preventive Medicine, University Hospitals of the Ruhr-University of Bochum, Germany
  • 4LEAD Graduate School and Research Network, University of Tübingen, Germany
  • 5Werner Reichardt Center for Integrative Neurosciences, University of Tübingen, Germany

The ability to reconcile is a key factor for a cooperative and successful life. Among the manifold factors that impact on how people negotiate social contracts, poor cognitive control (which is inversely linked to impulsivity) may exert negative effects on forgiveness. To investigate the neurobiological basis of this proposition, subjects with high vs. low impulsivity scores completed an ultimatum game (UG) and a dictator game (DG). First the participants played an UG where they had to accept or reject offers from fair or unfair opponents. Afterwards, the roles changed, and a DG was played. Here, subjects had the opportunity to forgive or take revenge towards the unfair opponents by the allocation of a fair/unfair amount of money. During this task, activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) was assessed via functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Highly impulsive subjects were significantly more revenge-seeking than low impulsive individuals. This behavioral difference was reflected in the activation pattern of the left DLPFC, where higher activation in trials with unfair opponents was found, but only in the highly impulsive group. This result is discussed as an indicator for a more revenge-driven behavior in highly impulsive individuals, as activity in the left DLPFC is associated with retaliation.

Keywords: cognitive control, Forgiveness, fNIRS, Revenge, impulsivity, dictator game, inhibition, Emotion Regulation

Received: 18 Feb 2019; Accepted: 09 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Maier, Rosenbaum, Hauessinger, Brüne, Fallgatter and Ehlis. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Moritz J. Maier, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany,