Abstract

Witnessing another person's suffering elicits vicarious brain activity in areas active when we ourselves are in pain. Whether this activity influences prosocial behavior remains debated. Here participants witnessed a confederate express pain via a reaction of the swatted hand or via a facial expression and could decide to reduce that pain by donating money. Participants donate more money on trials in which the confederate expressed more pain. EEG shows that activity of the SI hand region explains variance in donation; TMS shows that altering this activity interferes with the pain-donation coupling only when pain is expressed by the hand and HD-tDCS that altering SI activity also interferes with pain perception. These experiments show vicarious somatosensory activations contribute to prosocial decision-making and suggest they do so by helping transform observed reactions of affected body-parts into accurate perceptions of pain that are necessary for decision making.

Data availability

fMRI and EEG data have been deposited in Zenodo. Source data files have been provided for all figures

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Selene Gallo

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Riccardo Paracampo

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Laura Müller-Pinzler

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Mario Carlo Severo

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7403-819X
  5. Laila Blömer

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  6. Carolina Fernandes-Henriques

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  7. Anna Henschel

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  8. Balint Kalista Lammes

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  9. Tatjana Maskaljunas

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  10. Judith Suttrup

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-4034-1534
  11. Alessio Avenanti

    Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1139-9996
  12. Christian Keysers

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  13. Valeria Gazzola

    Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    For correspondence
    v.gazzola@nin.knaw.nl
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0324-0619

Funding

Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (VIDI: 452-14-015)

  • Valeria Gazzola

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (NARSAD young investigator 22453)

  • Valeria Gazzola

H2020 European Research Council (ERC-StG-312511)

  • Christian Keysers

Cogito Foundation (R-117/13)

  • Alessio Avenanti

Fundação Bial (298/16)

  • Alessio Avenanti

Cogito Foundation (14-139-R)

  • Alessio Avenanti

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Peggy Mason, University of Chicago, United States

Ethics

Human subjects: All studies have been approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.Project identifiers:2016-BC-73942016-BC-71302016-PSY-64852014-EXT-34762014-EXT-3432All participants received monetary compensation and gave their informed consent for participation in the study.

Version history

  1. Received: October 12, 2017
  2. Accepted: April 20, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: May 8, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: May 29, 2018 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2018, Gallo et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Selene Gallo
  2. Riccardo Paracampo
  3. Laura Müller-Pinzler
  4. Mario Carlo Severo
  5. Laila Blömer
  6. Carolina Fernandes-Henriques
  7. Anna Henschel
  8. Balint Kalista Lammes
  9. Tatjana Maskaljunas
  10. Judith Suttrup
  11. Alessio Avenanti
  12. Christian Keysers
  13. Valeria Gazzola
(2018)
The causal role of the somatosensory cortex in prosocial behaviour
eLife 7:e32740.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.32740

Share this article

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.32740

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