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Neural asymmetry in aligning with generous versus selfish descriptive norms in a charitable donation task

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Social alignment is supported by the brain's reward system (ventral striatum), presumably because attaining synchrony generates feelings of connectedness. However, this may hold only for aligning with generous others, while aligning with selfishness might threaten social connectedness. We investigated this postulated asymmetry in an incentivized fMRI charitable donation task. Participants decided how much of their endowment to donate to real charities, and how much to keep for themselves. Compared to a baseline condition, donations significantly increased or decreased in function of the presence of descriptive norms. The fMRI data reveal that processing selfish norms (more than generous ones) recruited the amygdala and anterior insula. Aligning with selfish norms correlated on average with reduced activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) and, at the individual level, with decreasing activity in the ventral striatum (VS). Conversely, as participants aligned more with generous norms, they showed increasing activity in the LPFC and, on average, increased activity in the VS. This increase occurred beyond the increased VS activity which was also observed in the baseline condition. Taken together, this suggests that aligning with generosity, while effortful, provides a "warm glow of herding" associated with collective giving, but that aligning with selfishness does not.
Journal: Scientific reports
ISSN: 2045-2322
Volume: 14
Pages: 1 - 14
Publication year:2024
Keywords:A1 Journal article