A neuronal reward inequity signal in primate striatum

J Neurophysiol. 2016 Jan 1;115(1):68-79. doi: 10.1152/jn.00321.2015. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


Primates are social animals, and their survival depends on social interactions with others. Especially important for social interactions and welfare is the observation of rewards obtained by other individuals and the comparison with own reward. The fundamental social decision variable for the comparison process is reward inequity, defined by an asymmetric reward distribution among individuals. An important brain structure for coding reward inequity may be the striatum, a component of the basal ganglia involved in goal-directed behavior. Two rhesus monkeys were seated opposite each other and contacted a touch-sensitive table placed between them to obtain specific magnitudes of reward that were equally or unequally distributed among them. Response times in one of the animals demonstrated differential behavioral sensitivity to reward inequity. A group of neurons in the striatum showed distinct signals reflecting disadvantageous and advantageous reward inequity. These neuronal signals occurred irrespective of, or in conjunction with, own reward coding. These data demonstrate that striatal neurons of macaque monkeys sense the differences between other's and own reward. The neuronal activities are likely to contribute crucial reward information to neuronal mechanisms involved in social interactions.

Keywords: inequality; neurophysiology; single neurons; social neuroscience.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Decision Making
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reward*
  • Social Behavior*