Neural basis of increased costly norm enforcement under adversity

Yan Wu, Hongbo Yu, Bo Shen, Rongjun Yu, Zhiheng Zhou, Guoping Zhang, Yushi Jiang, Xiaolin Zhou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Humans are willing to punish norm violations even at a substantial personal cost. Using fMRI and a variant of the ultimatum game and functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated how the brain differentially responds to fairness in loss and gain domains. Participants (responders) received offers from anonymous partners indicating a division of an amount of monetary gain or loss. If they accept, both get their shares according to the division; if they reject, both get nothing or lose the entire stake. We used a computational model to derive perceived fairness of offers and participant-specific inequity aversion. Behaviorally, participants were more likely to reject unfair offers in the loss (vs gain) domain. Neurally, the positive correlation between fairness and activation in ventral striatum was reduced, whereas the negative correlations between fairness and activations in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were enhanced in the loss domain. Moreover, rejection-related dorsal striatum activation was higher in the loss domain. Furthermore, the gain–loss domain modulates costly punishment only when unfair behavior was directed toward the participants and not when it was directed toward others. These findings provide neural and computational accounts of increased costly norm enforcement under adversity and advanced our understanding of the context-dependent nature of fairness preference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1862-1871
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • Computational modeling
  • Costly norm enforcement
  • Fairness
  • fMRI
  • Ultimatum game


Dive into the research topics of 'Neural basis of increased costly norm enforcement under adversity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this