Response of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex predicts altruistic behavior

J Neurosci. 2012 May 30;32(22):7646-50. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6193-11.2012.


Human beings have an unusual proclivity for altruistic behavior, and recent commentators have suggested that these prosocial tendencies arise from our unique capacity to understand the minds of others (i.e., to mentalize). The current studies test this hypothesis by examining the relation between altruistic behavior and the reflexive engagement of a neural system reliably associated with mentalizing. Results indicated that activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex--a region consistently involved in understanding others' mental states--predicts both monetary donations to others and time spent helping others. These findings address long-standing questions about the proximate source of human altruism by suggesting that prosocial behavior results, in part, from our broader tendency for social-cognitive thought.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen