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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 29;8(8):e73519. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073519. eCollection 2013.

"An eye for an eye"? Neural correlates of retribution and forgiveness.

Author information

  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Preventive Medicine, Landschaftsverband Westfalen Lippe University Hospital, Ruhr-University, Bochum, Germany. martin.bruene@rub.de


Humans have evolved strong preferences for equity and fairness. Neuroimaging studies suggest that punishing unfairness is associated with the activation of a neural network comprising the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, the ventral striatum, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Here, we report the neuronal correlates of retribution and "forgiveness" in a scenario, in which individuals first acted as a recipient in an Ultimatum Game, and subsequently assumed the position of a proposer in a Dictator Game played against the same opponents as in the Ultimatum Game. Most subjects responded in a tit-for-tat fashion, which was accompanied by activation of the ventral striatum, corroborating previous findings that punishing unfair behaviour has a rewarding connotation. Subjects distinguished between the human opponent and computer condition by activation of the ventromedial PFC in the human condition, indicative of mentalising. A substantial number of subjects did not retaliate. Neurally, this "forgiveness" behaviour was associated with the activation of the right (and to a lesser degree left) DLPFC, a region that serves as a cognitive control region and thus may be involved in inhibiting emotional responses against unfairness.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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