PhD Defence Jochem Spaans on June 24th: Happy to Help. Neural mechanisms of vicarious gaining in adolescence

On Friday, 24 June 2022, Jochem Spaans has defended his PhD dissertation, entitled: ‘Happy to Help. Neural mechanisms of vicarious gaining in adolescence’.

Dissertation in short

Prosocial behavior describes those actions that benefit another person, group, or community, without necessarily involving a clear benefit for the actor. During adolescence, children continue to develop social skills such as perspective taking, allowing them to develop healthy relationships and more mature prosocial goals.

In my dissertation, I investigated one element of prosocial behavior that might partly explain why we tend to perform prosocial behavior without a material benefit for ourselves; the experience of positive emotion, or a feeling of reward, when we help others. This experience is often referred to as a vicarious reward or a vicarious gain experience. These experiences are associated with activity in a specific region of the brain, the ventral striatum (i.e., the Nucleus Accumbens), which is also active when obtaining rewards for oneself of a wide variety.

I investigated these vicarious reward experiences in a longitudinal sample of adolescents (investigating the same group for three consecutive years), using fMRI to gain insight in neural activity when adolescents earned money for themselves and for a self-chosen charity.

Two highlighted results: First, whether or not vicarious reward experiences occur when gaining for charity in adolescence is related to individual differences in perspective taking skills and the tendency to donate to charity yourself. Second, the developmental trajectories of activity in the ventral striatum when obtaining rewards for self and charity co-vary with changes in donation behavior and perspective taking over time. This suggests a developmental pattern towards more similar neural activation for self gains and charity gains.

Proud promotors: Eveline Crone & Sabine Peters

Well done, Dr. Jochem!!



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