Empathic Concern Drives Costly Altruism

NeuroImage 105 (2015) 347–356

10 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2017

See all articles by Oriel FeldmanHall

Oriel FeldmanHall

Brown University Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences

Tim Dalgleish

Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Medical Research Council

Davy Evans

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Dean Mobbs

Columbia University

Date Written: 2015

Abstract

Why do we self-sacrifice to help others in distress? Two competing theories have emerged, one suggesting that prosocial behavior is primarily motivated by feelings of empathic other-oriented concern, the other that we help mainly because we are egoistically focused on reducing our own discomfort. Here we explore the relationship between costly altruism and these two sub-processes of empathy, specifically drawing on the caregiving model to test the theory that trait empathic concern (e.g. general tendency to have sympathy for another) and trait personal distress (e.g. predisposition to experiencing aversive arousal states) may differentially drive altruistic behavior. We find that trait empathic concern – and not trait personal distress – motivates costly altruism, and this relationship is supported by activity in the ventral tegmental area, caudate and subgenual anterior cingulate, key regions for promoting social attachment and caregiving. Together, this data helps identify the behavioral and neural mechanisms motivating costly altruism, while demonstrating that individual differences in empathic concern-related brain responses can predict real prosocial choice.

Keywords: Moral, Caudate, Subgenual ACC, VTA, Empathy, Altruism, Distress

Suggested Citation

FeldmanHall, Oriel and Dalgleish, Tim and Evans, Davy and Mobbs, Dean, Empathic Concern Drives Costly Altruism (2015). NeuroImage 105 (2015) 347–356, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2896908

Oriel FeldmanHall (Contact Author)

Brown University Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences ( email )

190 Thayer St.
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Tim Dalgleish

Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Medical Research Council ( email )

15 Chaucer Road
Cambridge, CB2 7EF
United Kingdom

Davy Evans

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit ( email )

15 Chaucer Road
Cambridge, CB2 7EF
United Kingdom

Dean Mobbs

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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