A feature-based network analysis and fMRI meta-analysis reveal three distinct types of prosocial decisions


Tasks that measure correlates of prosocial decision-making share one common feature: agents can make choices that increase the welfare of a beneficiary. However, prosocial decisions vary widely as a function of other task features. The diverse ways that prosociality is defined and the heterogeneity of prosocial decisions have created challenges for interpreting findings across studies and identifying their neural correlates. To overcome these challenges, we aimed to organize the prosocial decision-making task space of neuroimaging studies. We conducted a systematic search for studies in which participants made decisions to increase the welfare of others during functional magnetic resonance imaging. We identified shared and distinct features of these tasks and employed an unsupervised graph-based approach to assess how various forms of prosocial decision-making are related in terms of their low-level components (e.g. task features like potential cost to the agent or potential for reciprocity). Analyses uncovered three clusters of prosocial decisions, which we labeled as cooperation, equity and altruism. This feature-based representation of the task structure was supported by results of a neuroimaging meta-analysis that each type of prosocial decisions recruited diverging neural systems. Results clarify some of the existing heterogeneity in how prosociality is conceptualized and generate insight for future research and task paradigm development.

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience