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Sci Rep. 2017 Feb 21;7:43024. doi: 10.1038/srep43024.

Other-regarding attention focus modulates third-party altruistic choice: An fMRI study.

Author information

Center for Economics and Neuroscience, University of Bonn, 53127, Germany.
Department of Epileptology, University Hospital Bonn, 53127, Germany.
Department of Psychology, George Mason University, VA 22030, USA.


Third-party altruistic decision-making has been shown to be modulated by other-regarding attention (e.g., focusing on the offender's crime or the victim's situation especially in judicial judgment). However, the neural mechanisms underlying this modulation remain poorly understood. In this fMRI study, participants voluntarily decided if they wanted to punish the first-party offender or help the second-party victim using their own monetary endowment in an unfair context. Particularly, before deciding they were asked to focus on the (un)fairness of the offender proposing the offer (offender-focused block, OB), the feeling of the victim receiving this offer (victim-focused block, VB), or without any specific focus (baseline block, BB). We found that compared to BB participants punished more frequently and prolonged help choices in OB, whereas they helped more frequently in VB. These findings were accompanied by an increased activation in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) during decision making in OB and VB. Moreover, regions relevant to cognitive control (esp. IFG/AI and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) were strongly recruited during specific choices conflicting the attention focus (e.g., choosing help in OB). Our findings revealed how other-regarding attention modulates third-party altruistic decision-making at the neural level.

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