The causal role of the somatosensory cortex in prosocial behaviour.
ABSTRACT: Witnessing another person's suffering elicits vicarious brain activity in areas that are active when we ourselves are in pain. Whether this activity influences prosocial behavior remains the subject of debate. Here participants witnessed a confederate express pain through a reaction of the swatted hand or through a facial expression, and could decide to reduce that pain by donating money. Participants donate more money on trials in which the confederate expressed more pain. Electroencephalography shows that activity of the somatosensory cortex I (SI) hand region explains variance in donation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) shows that altering this activity interferes with the pain-donation coupling only when pain is expressed by the hand. High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) shows that altering SI activity also interferes with pain perception. These experiments show that vicarious somatosensory activations contribute to prosocial decision-making and suggest that they do so by helping to transform observed reactions of affected body-parts into accurate perceptions of pain that are necessary for decision-making.
Project description:The aim of the current study was to examine neural signatures of gaining money for self and charity in adolescence. Participants (N?=?160, aged 11-21) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging-scanning while performing a zero-sum vicarious reward task in which they could either earn money for themselves at the expense of charity, for a self-chosen charity at the expense of themselves, or for both parties. Afterwards, they could donate money to charity, which we used as a behavioral index of giving. Gaining for self and for both parties resulted in activity in the ventral striatum (specifically in the NAcc), but not gaining for charity. Interestingly, striatal activity when gaining for charity was positively related to individual differences in donation behavior and perspective taking. Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, insula and precentral gyrus were active when gaining only for self, and temporal-parietal junction when gaining only for charity, relative to gaining for both parties (i.e. under equity deviation). Taken together, these findings show that striatal activity during vicarious gaining for charity depends on levels of perspective taking and predicts future acts of giving to charity. These findings provide insight in the individual differences in the subjective value of prosocial outcomes.
Project description:People show autonomic responses when they empathize with the suffering of another person. However, little is known about how these autonomic changes are related to prosocial behavior. We measured skin conductance responses (SCRs) and affect ratings in participants while either receiving painful stimulation themselves, or observing pain being inflicted on another person. In a later session, they could prevent the infliction of pain in the other by choosing to endure pain themselves. Our results show that the strength of empathy-related vicarious skin conductance responses predicts later costly helping. Moreover, the higher the match between SCR magnitudes during the observation of pain in others and SCR magnitude during self pain, the more likely a person is to engage in costly helping. We conclude that prosocial motivation is fostered by the strength of the vicarious autonomic response as well as its match with first-hand autonomic experience.
Project description:Here we examine whether brain responses to dynamic facial expressions of pain are influenced by our responsibility for the observed pain. Participants played a flanker task with a confederate. Whenever either erred, the confederate was seen to receive a noxious shock. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that regions of the functionally localized pain-matrix of the participants (the anterior insula in particular) were activated most strongly when seeing the confederate receive a noxious shock when only the participant had erred (and hence had full responsibility). When both or only the confederate had erred (i.e. participant's shared or no responsibility), significantly weaker vicarious pain-matrix activations were measured.
Project description:Prosocial spending has been linked to positive benefits for individuals and societies. However, little is known about the precursors of prosocial spending directed to vulnerable people. We experimentally tested the effect of a first exposure to a prosocial donation decision on subsequent prosocial spending. We also examined the direct links from eudaimonic well-being beliefs (contribution-to-others and self-development) to prosocial spending, as well as the interaction between these beliefs and autonomy in predicting the money given. A total of 200 individuals participated in the study. Results showed that, compared to two control groups ("totally self-focused" and "no first-exposure"), an initial exposure to a prosocial donation decision increases subsequent prosocial spending. In addition, we observed an anchoring bias from the initial prosocial donation to subsequent prosocial spending. Regression analyses also confirmed the existence of a positive significant relationship between contribution-to-others beliefs and prosocial spending. Finally, we observed a significant interaction between autonomy and self-development well-being beliefs, such that autonomy strengthens the link from self-development beliefs to prosocial spending. In general, our results confirmed the significant role of exposure, anchoring, autonomy, and well-being beliefs in predicting the money spent to help vulnerable people.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Peer influence on students' maladaptive behaviors has been well documented; however, the influence on positive development is less acknowledged. PURPOSE:The purpose of this study was to examine anonymous peer influence on college students' prosocial behavior, specifically behavior for the improvement of society (i.e., donating money or participating in social campaigns) via an experimental approach. The effects of indirect peer influence (IP) and direct peer influence (DP) on college students' prosocial behavior were examined. METHODS:A total of 125 college students participated in an online survey and laboratory experiment. Self-reported helping behavior, social concern goals, and empathy were measured by the online survey. In the laboratory experiments, reading of a prosocial paragraph (IP) and confederates' prosocial behavior (DP) were manipulated. Participation in a signature campaign and money donation for illness were observed. Furthermore, 19 participants among those who donated were asked about their reasons for participating in such prosocial behavior. RESULTS:Prosocial behavior of anonymous peers (confederates) exerts a profound influence on college students' participation in a signature campaign and money donation, whereas the reading of a prosocial paragraph has no effect. Furthermore, no participants reported peer influence as a reason for engaging in prosocial behavior. CONCLUSION:This finding supports and extends recent research examining the positive impacts of anonymous peers on prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is not only a foundational and consistent aspect of personality, as previous studies report, but is also highly malleable and unstable in response to immediate situations.
Project description:Our capacity to share the experiences of others is a critical part of social behaviour. One process thought to be important for this is vicarious perception. Passively viewing touch activates some of the same network of brain regions as the direct experience of touch. This vicarious experience is usually implicit, but for some people, viewing touch evokes conscious tactile sensations (mirror-touch synaesthesia). Recent work has attempted to induce conscious vicarious touch in those that do not normally experience these sensations, using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Anodal tDCS applied to primary somatosensory cortex (SI) was found to induce behavioural performance akin to mirror-touch synaesthesia on a visuotactile interference task. Here, we conducted two experiments that sought to replicate and extend these findings by examining: (i) the effects of tDCS and high-frequency transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) targeted at SI and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) on vicarious tactile perception, (ii) the extent to which any stimulation effects were specific to viewing touch to humans vs. inanimate agents and (iii) the influence of visual perspective (viewing touch from one's own vs. another's perspective) on vicarious perception. In Experiment 1, tRNS targeted at SI did not modulate vicarious perception. In Experiment 2, tDCS targeted at SI, but not TPJ, resulted in some modulation of vicarious perception, but there were important caveats to this effect. Implications regarding mechanisms of vicarious perception are discussed. Collectively, the findings do not provide convincing evidence for the potential to modulate vicarious tactile perception with transcranial electrical current stimulation.
Project description:Does prosocial behavior promote happiness? We test this longstanding hypothesis in a behavioral experiment that extends the scope of previous research. In our Saving a Life paradigm, every participant either saved one human life in expectation by triggering a targeted donation of 350 euros or received an amount of 100 euros. Using a choice paradigm between two binary lotteries with different chances of saving a life, we observed subjects' intentions at the same time as creating random variation in prosocial outcomes. We repeatedly measured happiness at various delays. Our data weakly replicate the positive effect identified in previous research but only for the very short run. One month later, the sign of the effect reversed, and prosocial behavior led to significantly lower happiness than obtaining the money. Notably, even those subjects who chose prosocially were ultimately happier if they ended up getting the money for themselves. Our findings revealed a more nuanced causal relationship than previously suggested, providing an explanation for the apparent absence of universal prosocial behavior.
Project description:Do people consider alternative uses of money (i.e., opportunity cost) when asked to donate to a charitable cause? To answer this question, we examined the effect of providing versus not providing participants with an opportunity cost reminder when they are asked to donate money to causes with identified and non-identified victims. The results of two studies show that when making one-time donation decisions, people become less willing to donate to charity when reminded of opportunity cost, but mainly for non-identified victims. Moreover, framing the opportunity cost reminder as prosocial versus proself did not influence willingness to donate. Overall, our evidence suggests that opportunity cost reminders influence people's donation behavior depending on whether charities identify supported victims or not.
Project description:Mother-child relationships change considerably in adolescence, but it is not yet understood how mothers experience vicarious rewards for their adolescent children. In the current study, we investigated neural responses of twenty mothers winning and losing money for their best friend and for their adolescent child in a gambling task. During the task, functional neuroimaging data were acquired. We examined the activation patterns when playing for or winning for self, adolescent children and friends in four a-priori selected ROIs (nucleus accumbens, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, precuneus and temporo-parietal junction). Behaviorally, mothers indicated that they experienced most enjoyment when they gained money for their children and that their children deserved to win more, relative to friends and self. At the neural level, nucleus accumbens activity was stronger when winning versus losing. This pattern was not only found when playing for self, but also for friends and children, possibly reflecting the rewarding value of vicarious prosocial gains. In addition, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and temporo-parietal junction were more active when receiving outcomes for children and friends compared to self, possibly reflecting increased recruitment of mentalizing processes. Interestingly, activity in this network was stronger for mothers who indicated that their children and friends deserved to win more. These findings provide initial evidence that vicarious rewards for one's children are processed similarly as rewards for self, and that activation in social brain regions are related to social closeness.
Project description:Some conduct-disordered youths have high levels of callous unemotional traits and meet the DSM-5's "with limited prosocial emotions" (LPE) specifier. These youths often do aggressive, self-benefitting acts that cost others. We previously developed a task, the AlAn's game, which asks participants to repeatedly decide whether to accept or reject offers in which they will receive money but a planned charity donation will be reduced. In our prior work, more "costly helping" (i.e., rejecting the offered money and protecting the donation) was associated with lower callous unemotional traits. Here we extend that prior work in a larger sample of adolescent male patients with serious conduct problems and controls, and test whether this association is mediated specifically by a Moral Elevation response (i.e., a positive emotional response to another's act of virtue).The adolescent male participants were: 45 patients (23 with LPE) and 26 controls, who underwent an extensive phenotypic assessment including a measure of Moral Elevation. About 1 week later participants played the AlAn's game.All AlAn's game outcomes demonstrated significant group effects: (1) money taken for self (p = 0.02); (2) money left in the charitable donation (p = 0.03); and, (3) costly helping (p = 0.047). Controls took the least money and did the most costly helping, while patients with LPE took the most money and did the least costly helping. Groups also significantly differed in post-stimulus Moral Elevation scores (p = 0.005). Exploratory analyses supported that the relationship between callous unemotional traits and costly helping on the AlAn's game may be mediated in part by differences in Moral Elevation.The AlAn's game provides a standardized behavioral measure associated with callous unemotional traits. Adolescents with high levels of callous unemotional traits engage in fewer costly helping behaviors, and those differences may be related to blunting of positive emotional responses.