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Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Adult, Altruism, Charities, Choice Behavior, ethics, physiology, Culture, Female, Frontal Lobe, anatomy & histology, Gift Giving, Humans, Limbic System, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Nerve Net, Reward

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      Abstract

      Humans often sacrifice material benefits to endorse or to oppose societal causes based on moral beliefs. Charitable donation behavior, which has been the target of recent experimental economics studies, is an outstanding contemporary manifestation of this ability. Yet the neural bases of this unique aspect of human altruism, which extends beyond interpersonal interactions, remain obscure. In this article, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging while participants anonymously donated to or opposed real charitable organizations related to major societal causes. We show that the mesolimbic reward system is engaged by donations in the same way as when monetary rewards are obtained. Furthermore, medial orbitofrontal-subgenual and lateral orbitofrontal areas, which also play key roles in more primitive mechanisms of social attachment and aversion, specifically mediate decisions to donate or to oppose societal causes. Remarkably, more anterior sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices prevail over selfish material interests.

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      Most cited references 27

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      The nature of human altruism.

      Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary origins, our social relations, and the organization of society are centred around issues of altruism and selfishness. Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world. However, there is much individual heterogeneity and the interaction between altruists and selfish individuals is vital to human cooperation. Depending on the environment, a minority of altruists can force a majority of selfish individuals to cooperate or, conversely, a few egoists can induce a large number of altruists to defect. Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism, pointing towards the importance of both theories of cultural evolution as well as gene-culture co-evolution.
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        A Neural Substrate of Prediction and Reward

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          Oxytocin increases trust in humans.

          Trust pervades human societies. Trust is indispensable in friendship, love, families and organizations, and plays a key role in economic exchange and politics. In the absence of trust among trading partners, market transactions break down. In the absence of trust in a country's institutions and leaders, political legitimacy breaks down. Much recent evidence indicates that trust contributes to economic, political and social success. Little is known, however, about the biological basis of trust among humans. Here we show that intranasal administration of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in social attachment and affiliation in non-human mammals, causes a substantial increase in trust among humans, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions. We also show that the effect of oxytocin on trust is not due to a general increase in the readiness to bear risks. On the contrary, oxytocin specifically affects an individual's willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions. These results concur with animal research suggesting an essential role for oxytocin as a biological basis of prosocial approach behaviour.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            17030808
            10.1073/pnas.0604475103
            1622872

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