Luke J. Chang, Alec Smith, Martin Dufwenberg and Alan G. Sanfey
Neuron, Volume 70, Issue 3, 560-572, 12 May 2011
Why do people often choose to cooperate when they can better serve their interests by acting selfishly? One potential mechanism is that the anticipation of guilt can motivate cooperative behavior. We utilize a formal model of this process in conjunction with fMRI to identify brain regions that mediate cooperative behavior while participants decided whether or not to honor a partner's trust. We observed increased activation in the insula, supplementary motor area, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), and temporal parietal junction when participants were behaving consistent with our model, and found increased activity in the ventromedial PFC, dorsomedial PFC, and nucleus accumbens when they chose to abuse trust and maximize their financial reward. This study demonstrates that a neural system previously implicated in expectation processing plays a critical role in assessing moral sentiments that in turn can sustain human cooperation in the face of temptation.