Triangulating the Neural, Psychological, and Economic Bases of Guilt Aversion

Luke J. Chang, Alec Smith, Martin Dufwenberg, Alan G. Sanfey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

180 Scopus citations


Why do people often choose to cooperate when they can better serve their interests by acting selfishly? One potential mechanism is that the anticipation of guilt can motivate cooperative behavior. We utilize a formal model of this process in conjunction with fMRI to identify brain regions that mediate cooperative behavior while participants decided whether or not to honor a partner's trust. We observed increased activation in the insula, supplementary motor area, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), and temporal parietal junction when participants were behaving consistent with our model, and found increased activity in the ventromedial PFC, dorsomedial PFC, and nucleus accumbens when they chose to abuse trust and maximize their financial reward. This study demonstrates that a neural system previously implicated in expectation processing plays a critical role in assessing moral sentiments that in turn can sustain human cooperation in the face of temptation. Video Abstract:

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)560-572
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 12 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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