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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019 Aug 7;14(6):569-577. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsz034.

Ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal interactions underlie will to fight and die for a cause.

Pretus C1,2,3, Hamid N1,4, Sheikh H1,5, Gómez Á1,6, Ginges J1,5, Tobeña A1,2, Davis R1,7,8, Vilarroya O1,2, Atran S1,8,9,10.

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Artis International, Scottsdale, AZ 85254, USA.
Departament de Psiquiatria i Medicina Legal, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Cerdanyola del Vallès 08193, Spain.
Fundació IMIM (Institut Municipal d'Investigacions Mèdiques), 08003 Barcelona, Spain.
Department of Security and Crime Science, University College London, London WC1H 9EZ, England.
Department of Psychology, New School for Social Research, New York, NY 10011, USA.
Departamento de Psicología Social y de las Organizaciones, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid 28040, Spain.
School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.
The Changing Character of War Centre, Pembroke College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 1DW, England.
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut Jean Nicod-Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris 75005, France.
Gerald Ford School of Public Policy and Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109, MI USA.


Willingness to fight and die (WFD) has been developed as a measure to capture willingness to incur costly sacrifices for the sake of a greater cause in the context of entrenched conflict. WFD measures have been repeatedly used in field studies, including studies on the battlefield, although their neurofunctional correlates remain unexplored. Our aim was to identify the neural underpinnings of WFD, focusing on neural activity and interconnectivity of brain areas previously associated with value-based decision-making, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). A sample of Pakistani participants supporting the Kashmiri cause was selected and invited to participate in an functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) paradigm where they were asked to convey their WFD for a series of values related to Islam and current politics. As predicted, higher compared to lower WFD was associated with increased ventromedial prefrontal activity and decreased dorsolateral activity, as well as lower connectivity between the vmPFC and the dlPFC. Our findings suggest that WFD more prominently relies on brain areas typically associated with subjective value (vmPFC) rather than integration of material costs (dlPFC) during decision-making, supporting the notion that decisions on costly sacrifices may not be mediated by cost-benefit computation.


costly sacrifices; fMRI; functional connectivity; sacred values; will to fight and die

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