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Social comparison can elicit emotions such as envy, which can affect social interactions. The emergence and development of such social emotions through ontogeny, and their influence on social interaction, are unknown. We tested 182 children from 7 to 13 years of age with a novel monetary reward-and-punishment task measuring envy and Schadenfreude (i.e., gloating or taking delight in someone else’s misfortune). Children were either rewarded or punished in a trial-by-trial evaluation of their performance on a speeded reaction time task. In a social condition, feedback of their own and a competitor’s performance was given for each trial. Afterward, children rated how they felt about the outcome. The ratings suggest that when children won, they felt better if the competitor lost instead of winning (i.e., Schadenfreude). Conversely, when children lost, they felt worse if the competitor won instead of losing (i.e., envy). Crucially, levels of envy and Schadenfreude decreased with age. We also studied how these emotions relate to social decisions made separately during three resource allocation paradigms. In each, children chose between two options that differed in the distribution of valuable tokens between themselves and an anonymous other. The combination of choices allowed the measurement of inequity aversion (i.e., equality for all) and spite (i.e., self-profit to maximal disadvantage of the other). We found an age-related increase in inequity aversion and decrease in spite. Crucially, age-related changes in both envy and Schadenfreude predicted the developmental change in equity-related decisions. These findings shed light on the development of social emotions and demonstrate their importance in the development of prosocial behavior in children.
We investigated whether mindfulness training (MT) influences information processing in a working memory task with complex visual stimuli. Participants were tested before (T1) and after (T2) participation in an intensive one-month MT retreat, and their performance was compared with that of an age- and education-matched control group. Accuracy did not differ across groups at either time point. Response times were faster and significantly less variable in the MT versus the control group at T2. Since these results could be due to changes in mnemonic processes, speed-accuracy trade-off, or nondecisional factors (e.g., motor execution), we used a mathematical modeling approach to disentangle these factors. The EZ-diffusion model (Wagenmakers, van der Maas, & Grasman, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 14:(1), 3-22, 2007) suggested that MT leads to improved information quality and reduced response conservativeness, with no changes in nondecisional factors. The noisy exemplar model further suggested that the increase in information quality reflected a decrease in encoding noise and not an increase in forgetting. Thus, mathematical modeling may help clarify the mechanisms by which MT produces salutary effects on performance.
The capacity to self-generate mental content that is unrelated to the current environment is a fundamental characteristic of the mind, and the current experiment explored how this experience is related to the decisions that people make in daily life. We examined how task-unrelated thought (TUT) varies with the length of time participants are willing to wait for an economic reward, as measured using an inter-temporal discounting task. When participants performed a task requiring minimal attention, the greater the amount of time spent engaged in TUT the longer the individual was prepared to wait for an economic reward. These data indicate that self-generated thought engages processes associated with the successful management of long-term goals. Although immersion in the here and now is undeniably advantageous, under appropriate conditions the capacity to let go of the present and consider more pertinent personal goals may have its own rewards.
This review provides an overview of the field of social neuroscience from a European perspective and focuses mainly on outlining research topics which originated in European laboratories. After a brief historical synopsis of the emergence of this young field, the most relevant findings related to the investigation of the neural networks underlying our capacity to understand the minds of others are summarized. More specifically, three routes of social cognition are distinguished: (1) our capacity to mentalize, or to infer intentions and beliefs of others, (2) our capacity to mimic and understand other's motor actions, and (3) our capacity to empathize, or to share and understand the feelings of others. More recent studies focusing on social emotions such as love, compassion, revenge or our sense of fairness will be discussed linking the field of social neuroscience to the even younger field of neuroeconomics, with the focus on the study of human social interactions using game theoretical paradigms. Finally, the use of a multi-method and multi-disciplinary research approach combining genetic, pharmacological, computational and developmental aspects is advocated and future directions for the study of interactive minds are discussed.
Planned and reflexive behaviors often occur in the presence of emotional stimuli and within the context of an individual's acute emotional state. Therefore, determining the manner in which emotion and attention interact is an important step toward understanding how we function in the real world. Participants in the current investigation viewed centrally displayed, task-irrelevant, face distractors (angry, neutral, happy) while performing a lateralized go/no-go continuous performance task. Lateralized go targets and no-go lures that did not spatially overlap with the faces were employed to differentially probe processing in the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres. There was a significant interaction between expression and hemisphere, with an overall pattern such that angry distractors were associated with relatively more RH inhibitory errors than neutral or happy distractors and happy distractors with relatively more LH inhibitory errors than angry or neutral distractors. Simple effects analyses confirmed that angry faces differentially interfered with RH relative to LH inhibition and with inhibition in the RH relative to happy faces. A significant three-way interaction further revealed that state anxiety moderated relations between emotional expression and hemisphere. Under conditions of low cognitive load, more intense anxiety was associated with relatively greater RH than LH impairment in the presence of both happy and threatening distractors. By contrast, under high load, only angry distractors produced greater RH than LH interference as a function of anxiety.