Equitable decision making is associated with neural markers of intrinsic value
Jamil Zaki and Jason P. Mitchell
PNAS December 6, 2011 vol. 108 no. 49 19761-19766
Standard economic and evolutionary models assume that humans are fundamentally selfish. On this view, any acts of prosociality—such as cooperation, giving, and other forms of altruism—result from covert attempts to avoid social injunctions against selfishness. However, even in the absence of social pressure, individuals routinely forego personal gain to share resources with others. Such anomalous giving cannot be accounted for by standard models of social behavior. Recent observations have suggested that, instead, prosocial behavior may reflect an intrinsic value placed on social ideals such as equity and charity. Here, we show that, consistent with this alternative account, making equitable interpersonal decisions engaged neural structures involved in computing subjective value, even when doing so required foregoing material resources. By contrast, making inequitable decisions produced activity in the anterior insula, a region linked to the experience of subjective disutility. Moreover, inequity-related insula response predicted individuals’ unwillingness to make inequitable choices. Together, these data suggest that prosocial behavior is not simply a response to external pressure, but instead represents an intrinsic, and intrinsically social, class of reward.