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Cereb Cortex. 2020 Feb 21. pii: bhz326. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz326. [Epub ahead of print]

A Generalizable Multivariate Brain Pattern for Interpersonal Guilt.

Yu H1,2,3,4,5, Koban L2,3,6,7, Chang LJ8, Wagner U9, Krishnan A2,3,10, Vuilleumier P6,11, Zhou X1,12,13,14,15, Wager TD2,3,8.

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School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.
Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.
Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland.
Control-Interoception-Attention Team, Brain & Spine Institute, 47 bd de l'hôpital, 75013 Paris, France.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.
Department of Psychology, University of Münster, 48149 Münster, Germany.
Department of Psychology, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, New York, NY 11210, USA.
Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, Department of Neuroscience, University Medical Center, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland.
Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.
PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.
Institute of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Zhejiang Normal University, Zhejiang 321004, China.
Key Laboratory of Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, School of Business and Management, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai 200083, China.


Feeling guilty when we have wronged another is a crucial aspect of prosociality, but its neurobiological bases are elusive. Although multivariate patterns of brain activity show promise for developing brain measures linked to specific emotions, it is less clear whether brain activity can be trained to detect more complex social emotional states such as guilt. Here, we identified a distributed guilt-related brain signature (GRBS) across two independent neuroimaging datasets that used interpersonal interactions to evoke guilt. This signature discriminated conditions associated with interpersonal guilt from closely matched control conditions in a cross-validated training sample (N = 24; Chinese population) and in an independent test sample (N = 19; Swiss population). However, it did not respond to observed or experienced pain, or recalled guilt. Moreover, the GRBS only exhibited weak spatial similarity with other brain signatures of social-affective processes, further indicating the specificity of the brain state it represents. These findings provide a step toward developing biological markers of social emotions, which could serve as important tools to investigate guilt-related brain processes in both healthy and clinical populations.


brain signature; cross-culture; fMRI; guilt; multivariate pattern analysis


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