Neural signatures of prosocial behaviors

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 Nov:118:186-195. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.07.006. Epub 2020 Jul 21.


Prosocial behaviors are hypothesized to require socio-cognitive and empathic abilities-engaging brain regions attributed to the mentalizing and empathy brain networks. Here, we tested this hypothesis with a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 600 neuroimaging studies on prosociality, mentalizing and empathy (∼12,000 individuals). We showed that brain areas recruited by prosocial behaviors only partially overlap with the mentalizing (dorsal posterior cingulate cortex) and empathy networks (middle cingulate cortex). Additionally, the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortices were preferentially activated by prosocial behaviors. Analyses on the functional connectivity profile and functional roles of the neural patterns underlying prosociality revealed that in addition to socio-cognitive and empathic processes, prosocial behaviors further involve evaluation processes and action planning, likely to select the action sequence that best satisfies another person's needs. By characterizing the multidimensional construct of prosociality at the neural level, we provide insights that may support a better understanding of normal and abnormal social cognition (e.g., psychopathy).

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Empathy; Mentalizing; Meta-analytic connectivity mapping; Prosocial behavior; Resting-state functional connectivity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Altruism*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Prefrontal Cortex