Shifting prosocial intuitions: Neurocognitive evidence for a value-based account of group-based cooperation

Leor M. Hackel, Julian A. Wills, Jay J. Van Bavel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cooperation is necessary for solving numerous social issues, including climate change, effective governance and economic stability. Value-based decision models contend that prosocial tendencies and social context shape people's preferences for cooperative or selfish behavior. Using functional neuroimaging and computational modeling, we tested these predictions by comparing activity in brain regions previously linked to valuation and executive function during decision-making-the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), respectively. Participants played Public Goods Games with students from fictitious universities, where social norms were selfish or cooperative. Prosocial participants showed greater vmPFC activity when cooperating and dlPFC-vmPFC connectivity when acting selfishly, whereas selfish participants displayed the opposite pattern. Norm-sensitive participants showed greater dlPFC-vmPFC connectivity when defying group norms. Modeling expectations of cooperation was associated with activity near the right temporoparietal junction. Consistent with value-based models, this suggests that prosocial tendencies and contextual norms flexibly determine whether people prefer cooperation or defection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-381
Number of pages11
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Cooperation
  • FMRI
  • Norms
  • Preferences
  • Prosocial
  • Social neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Shifting prosocial intuitions: Neurocognitive evidence for a value-based account of group-based cooperation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this