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J Neurosci. 2009 Feb 18;29(7):2188-92. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5086-08.2009.

Economic games quantify diminished sense of guilt in patients with damage to the prefrontal cortex.

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  • 1Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.

Abstract

Damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) impairs concern for other people, as reflected in the dysfunctional real-life social behavior of patients with such damage, as well as their abnormal performances on tasks ranging from moral judgment to economic games. Despite these convergent data, we lack a formal model of how, and to what degree, VMPFC lesions affect an individual's social decision-making. Here we provide a quantification of these effects using a formal economic model of choice that incorporates terms for the disutility of unequal payoffs, with parameters that index behaviors normally evoked by guilt and envy. Six patients with focal VMPFC lesions participated in a battery of economic games that measured concern about payoffs to themselves and to others: dictator, ultimatum, and trust games. We analyzed each task individually, but also derived estimates of the guilt and envy parameters from aggregate behavior across all of the tasks. Compared with control subjects, the patients donated significantly less and were less trustworthy, and overall our model found a significant insensitivity to guilt. Despite these abnormalities, the patients had normal expectations about what other people would do, and they also did not simply generate behavior that was more noisy. Instead, the findings argue for a specific insensitivity to guilt, an abnormality that we suggest characterizes a key contribution made by the VMPFC to social behavior.

PMID:
19228971
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2646169
Free PMC Article
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