A comparative fMRI meta-analysis of altruistic and strategic decisions to give

Abstract

The decision to share resources is fundamental for cohesive societies. Humans can be motivated to give for many reasons. Some generosity incurs a definite cost, with no extrinsic reward to the act, but instead provides intrinsic satisfaction (labelled here as ‘altruistic’ giving). Other giving behaviours are done with the prospect of improving one’s own situation via reciprocity, reputation, or public good (labelled here as ‘strategic’ giving). These contexts differ in the source, certainty, and timing of rewards as well as the inferences made about others’ mental states. We executed a combined statistical map and coordinate-based fMRI meta-analysis of decisions to give (36 studies, 1150 participants). Methods included a novel approach for accommodating variable signal dropout between studies in meta-analysis. Results reveal consistent, cross-paradigm neural correlates of each decision type, commonalities, and informative differences. Relative to being selfish, altruistic and strategic giving activate overlapping reward networks. However, strategic decisions showed greater activity in striatal regions than altruistic choices. Altruistic giving, more than strategic, activated subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC). Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is consistently involved during generous decisions and processing across a posterior to anterior axis differentiates the altruistic/strategic context. Posterior vmPFC was preferentially recruited during altruistic decisions. Regions of the ‘social brain’ showed distinct patterns of activity between choice types, reflecting the different use of theory of mind in the two contexts. We provide the consistent neural correlates of decisions to give, and show that many will depend on the source of incentives.

Publication
Neuroimage
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Jo Cutler
PhD Student

My research interests include altruism, charitable giving, neuroimaging and physiology.