Mindfulness training increases cooperative decision making in economic exchanges: Evidence from fMRI

Neuroimage. 2016 Sep;138:274-283. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.05.075. Epub 2016 Jun 4.


Emotions have been shown to exert influences on decision making during economic exchanges. Here we investigate the underlying neural mechanisms of a training regimen which is hypothesized to promote emotional awareness, specifically mindfulness training (MT). We test the hypothesis that MT increases cooperative economic decision making using fMRI in a randomized longitudinal design involving 8weeks of either MT or active control training (CT). We find that MT results in an increased willingness to cooperate indexed by higher acceptance rates to unfair monetary offers in the Ultimatum Game. While controlling for acceptance rates of monetary offers between intervention groups, subjects in the MT and CT groups show differential brain activation patterns. Specifically, a subset of more cooperative MT subjects displays increased activation in the septal region, an area linked to social attachment, which may drive the increased willingness to express cooperative behavior in the MT cohort. Furthermore, MT resulted in attenuated activity in anterior insula compared with the CT group in response to unfair monetary offers post-training, which may suggest that MT enables greater ability to effectively regulate the anterior insula and thereby promotes social cooperation. Finally, functional connectivity analyses show a coupling between the septal region and posterior insula in the MT group, suggesting an integration of interoceptive inputs. Together, these results highlight that MT may be employed in contexts where emotional regulation is required to promote social cooperation.

Keywords: Decision making; Interoception; Mindfulness; Social cooperation; Ultimatum Game; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mindfulness / methods*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Treatment Outcome