Neurobiological mechanisms of responding to injustice
Number of pages
SourceThe Journal of Neuroscience, 38, 12, (2018), pp. 2944-2954
Article / Letter to editor
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Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging
PI Group Decision Neuroscience
SW OZ BSI SCP
The Journal of Neuroscience
Subject140 000 Decision neuroscience; Behaviour Change and Well-being
People are particularly sensitive to injustice. Accordingly, deeper knowledge regarding the processes that underlie the perception of injustice, and the subsequent decisions to either punish transgressors or compensate victims, is of important social value. By combining a novel decision-making paradigm with functional neuroimaging, we identified specific brain networks that are involved with both the perception of, and response to, social injustice, with reward-related regions preferentially involved in punishment compared with compensation. Developing a computational model of punishment allowed for disentangling the neural mechanisms and psychological motives underlying decisions of whether to punish and, subsequently, of how severely to punish. Results show that the neural mechanisms underlying punishment differ depending on whether one is directly affected by the injustice, or whether one is a third-party observer of a violation occurring to another. Specifically, the anterior insula was involved in decisions to punish following harm, whereas, in third-party scenarios, we found amygdala activity associated with punishment severity. Additionally, we used a pharmacological intervention using oxytocin, and found that oxytocin influenced participants' fairness expectations, and in particular enhanced the frequency of low punishments. Together, these results not only provide more insight into the fundamental brain mechanisms underlying punishment and compensation, but also illustrate the importance of taking an explorative, multimethod approach when unraveling the complex components of everyday decision-making.
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