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A neural basis for social cooperation.

Cooperation based on reciprocal altruism has evolved in only a small number of species, yet it constitutes the core behavioral principle of human social life. The iterated Prisoner's Dilemma Game has been used to model this form of cooperation. We used fMRI to scan 36 women as they played an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma Game with another woman to investigate the neurobiological basis of cooperative social behavior. Mutual cooperation was associated with consistent activation in brain areas that have been linked with reward processing: nucleus accumbens, the caudate nucleus, ventromedial frontal/orbitofrontal cortex, and rostral anterior cingulate cortex. We propose that activation of this neural network positively reinforces reciprocal altruism, thereby motivating subjects to resist the temptation to selfishly accept but not reciprocate favors.

Pubmed ID: 12160756


  • Rilling J
  • Gutman D
  • Zeh T
  • Pagnoni G
  • Berns G
  • Kilts C



Publication Data

July 18, 2002

Associated Grants

  • Agency: NIDA NIH HHS, Id: DA00367
  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: MH61010

Mesh Terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism
  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Cognition
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Game Theory
  • Humans
  • Limbic System
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Reinforcement (Psychology)
  • Reward