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Trust and reciprocity are two closely linked concepts that are ubiquitous within cooperative exchange. To distinguish the two, we first review potential motivations that drive trusting and reciprocal behavior. Economic theories suggest that both preferences over monetary distributions (outcome-based) as well as considerations about others’ intentions (belief-based) may contribute to decisions to trust and reciprocate. Outcome-based theories suggest that individuals’ internal preferences over monetary distribution influence decision-making. In comparison, belief-based theories assume that individuals’ expectations about themselves and others generate emotions that influence decision-making. Turning to the neuroscience of trust and reciprocity with the trust game, we find that neural activations in insula, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex are common to belief-based motivations, while neural responses in caudate and amygdala reflect outcome-based motivations. Integrating economic theory with neuroscientific findings, we suggest that reciprocal behavior is primarily driven by belief-based motivations while trust behavior is associated with outcome-based preferences. We propose that future research should examine the potential context-dependent nature of behavioral motivations, investigate both positive and negative reciprocity, and leverage the trust game and related paradigms to parse potential sources of social dysfunction in mental illness.
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