Thomas Baumgartner, Daria Knoch, Philine Hotz, Christoph Eisenegger & Ernst Fehr
Nature Neuroscience 14, 1468–1474 (2011)
Humans are noted for their capacity to over-ride self-interest in favor of normatively valued goals. We examined the neural circuitry that is causally involved in normative, fairness-related decisions by generating a temporarily diminished capacity for costly normative behavior, a 'deviant' case, through non-invasive brain stimulation (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation) and compared normal subjects' functional magnetic resonance imaging signals with those of the deviant subjects. When fairness and economic self-interest were in conflict, normal subjects (who make costly normative decisions at a much higher frequency) displayed significantly higher activity in, and connectivity between, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the posterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex (pVMPFC). In contrast, when there was no conflict between fairness and economic self-interest, both types of subjects displayed identical neural patterns and behaved identically. These findings suggest that a parsimonious prefrontal network, the activation of right DLPFC and pVMPFC, and the connectivity between them, facilitates subjects' willingness to incur the cost of normative decisions.