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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Apr;9(4):395-402. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss144. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Default distrust? An fMRI investigation of the neural development of trust and cooperation.

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Department of Educational Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology and Education, VU University Amsterdam; Prof. E.M. Meijerslaan 2, 1183 BT Amstelveen, The Netherlands. Tel.: +31 20 598 3462; Fax: +31 20 598 8745.


The tendency to trust and to cooperate increases from adolescence to adulthood. This social development has been associated with improved mentalizing and age-related changes in brain function. Thus far, there is limited imaging data investigating these associations. We used two trust games with a trustworthy and an unfair partner to explore the brain mechanisms underlying trust and cooperation in subjects ranging from adolescence to mid-adulthood. Increasing age was associated with higher trust at the onset of social interactions, increased levels of trust during interactions with a trustworthy partner and a stronger decline in trust during interactions with an unfair partner. Our findings demonstrate a behavioural shift towards higher trust and an age-related increase in the sensitivity to others' negative social signals. Increased brain activation in mentalizing regions, i.e. temporo-parietal junction, posterior cingulate and precuneus, supported the behavioural change. Additionally, age was associated with reduced activation in the reward-related orbitofrontal cortex and caudate nucleus during interactions with a trustworthy partner, possibly reflecting stronger expectations of trustworthiness. During unfair interactions, age-related increases in anterior cingulate activation, an area implicated in conflict monitoring, may mirror the necessity to inhibit pro-social tendencies in the face of the partner's actual levels of cooperation.


development; fMRI; perspective taking; theory of mind; trust game

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