Prefrontal activation while listening to a letter of gratitude read aloud by a coworker face-to-face: A NIRS study

PLoS One. 2020 Sep 8;15(9):e0238715. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238715. eCollection 2020.


Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a non-invasive functional brain imaging technique. NIRS is suitable for monitoring brain activation during social interactions. One of the omnipresent social interactions for employees is saying thank you and being thanked. It has been demonstrated that expressing and receiving gratitude leads to employees' well-being and performance. To date, there have been no neuroimaging studies that monitor brain activity when receiving gratitude. Thus, we designed an experiment using NIRS to monitor brain function while listening to a letter of gratitude read by a coworker. We hypothesized that listening to a letter of gratitude read aloud by a co-worker in a face-to-face setting would have different effects on PFC activity than listening to a conversation about a neutral topic. We recruited 10 pairs of healthy right-handed employees. They were asked to write a letter of gratitude to their partner 1 week before the experiment. In the experiment, each pair sat face-to-face and read their letters aloud to each other. We evaluated changes in mood state before and after the experiment. NIRS was measured in each participant while they listened to their peers in the experimental condition (gratitude letter) and control condition (talking about the weather and date). The results suggested that negative mood state decreased after the experiment. Moreover, there were interaction effects between conditions and periods. Although further studies are needed to confirm the interpretation, our findings suggested that experience of being thanked was accompanied by prefrontal cortex activation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxyhemoglobins / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared*
  • Task Performance and Analysis


  • Oxyhemoglobins

Grants and funding

DH received JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP18H06340 Grant-in-Aid for Research Activity Start-up. The funder's name was Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (URL: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.