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Altruism is associated with an increased neural response to agency

Abstract

Although the neural mechanisms underlying altruism remain unknown, empathy and its component abilities, such as the perception of the actions and intentions of others, have been proposed as key contributors. Tasks requiring the perception of agency activate the posterior superior temporal cortex (pSTC), particularly in the right hemisphere. Here, we demonstrate that differential activation of the human pSTC during action perception versus action performance predicts self-reported altruism.

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Figure 1: Increased right pSTC activation to action perception compared with action performance.
Figure 2: Altruism is predicted by pSTC activation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank E. Douglas for assistance in data collection, S. Green for assistance in manuscript preparation and G. McCarthy, J. Morris, K. Pelphrey, D. Purves and B. Weber for comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH-70685), by the US National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke (NINDS-41328) and by institutional funds of Duke University.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

D.T. and S.A.H. designed the fMRI task; D.T. and C.J.S. designed the altruism scale and selected the psychometric measures; and D.T. conducted the data analyses, under the supervision of S.A.H. D.T and S.A.H wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Scott A Huettel.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

Detection of agency activated posterior “theory of mind” regions in Experiment 1. (PDF 74 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Increased right pSTC activation to the detection of agency. (PDF 56 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

Regions of significant activation in the Watching > Playing contrast in Experiment 1. (PDF 11 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Regions of significant activation in the Watching > Playing contrast in Experiment 2. (PDF 10 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Regions whose activation exhibited a significant across-subjects correlation with altruism in Experiment 1. (PDF 61 kb)

Supplementary Table 4

Correlations between brain activation and psychometric measures in Experiment 2. (PDF 10 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 20 kb)

Supplementary Note (PDF 28 kb)

Supplementary Data (PDF 16 kb)

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Tankersley, D., Stowe, C. & Huettel, S. Altruism is associated with an increased neural response to agency. Nat Neurosci 10, 150–151 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1833

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