Affordable Access

The psychological, computational, and neural foundations of indebtedness.

  • Gao, Xiaoxue
  • Jolly, Eshin
  • Liu, Huiying
  • Zhou, Xiaolin
  • Chang, Luke
  • Yu, Hongbo
Publication Date
Jan 02, 2024
eScholarship - University of California
External links


Receiving a favor from another person may induce a negative feeling of indebtedness for the beneficiary. In this study, we explore these hidden costs by developing and validating a conceptual model of indebtedness across three studies that combine a large-scale online questionnaire, an interpersonal game, computational modeling, and neuroimaging. Our model captures how individuals perceive the altruistic and strategic intentions of the benefactor. These inferences produce distinct feelings of guilt and obligation that together comprise indebtedness and motivate reciprocity. Perceived altruistic intentions convey care and communal concern and are associated with activity in insula, ventromedial prefrontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, while inferred strategic intentions convey expectations of future reciprocity and are associated with activation in temporal parietal junction and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. We further develop a neural utility model of indebtedness using multivariate patterns of brain activity that captures the tradeoff between these feelings and reliably predicts reciprocity behavior.

Report this publication


Seen <100 times