A neurobiological association of revenge propensity during intergroup conflict

  1. Xiaochun Han
  2. Michele J Gelfand
  3. Bing Wu
  4. Ting Zhang
  5. Wenxin Li
  6. Tianyu Gao
  7. Chenyu Pang
  8. Taoyu Wu
  9. Yuqing Zhou
  10. Shuai Zhou
  11. Xinhuai Wu  Is a corresponding author
  12. Shihui Han  Is a corresponding author
  1. Peking University, China
  2. University of Maryland, United States
  3. Medical Center of PLA General Hospital, China

Abstract

Revenge during intergroup conflict is a human universal, but its neurobiological underpinnings remain unclear. We address this by integrating functional MRI and measurements of endogenous oxytocin in participants who view an ingroup and an outgroup member's suffering that is caused mutually (Revenge group) or respectively by a computer (Control group). We show that intergroup conflict encountered by the Revenge group is associated with an increased level of oxytocin in saliva compared to in the Control group. Furthermore, the medial prefrontal activity in response to ingroup pain in the Revenge but not Control group mediates the association between endogenous oxytocin and the propensity to give painful electric shocks to outgroup members regardless of whether they were directly involved in the conflict. Our findings highlight an important neurobiological correlate of revenge propensity which may be implicated in conflict contagion across individuals in the context of intergroup conflict.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed for figures of this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files. Source data files have been provided for Figures 2-6.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Xiaochun Han

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Michele J Gelfand

    Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Bing Wu

    Radiology, Medical Center of PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Ting Zhang

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Wenxin Li

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  6. Tianyu Gao

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  7. Chenyu Pang

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  8. Taoyu Wu

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  9. Yuqing Zhou

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  10. Shuai Zhou

    Radiology, Medical Center of PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  11. Xinhuai Wu

    Radiology, Medical Center of PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China
    For correspondence
    bei925@sina.com
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  12. Shihui Han

    School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
    For correspondence
    shan@pku.edu.cn
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-3350-5104

Funding

National Natural Science Foundation of China (31661143039)

  • Shihui Han

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

Reviewing Editor

  1. Marius V Peelen, Radboud University, Netherlands

Ethics

Human subjects: Informed consent was obtained prior to the experiment. All participants were paid for their participation. This study was approved by the local ethics committee at the School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University.(#2015-12-04)

Version history

  1. Received: September 19, 2019
  2. Accepted: February 20, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: March 3, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: March 5, 2020 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2020, Han 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. Xiaochun Han
  2. Michele J Gelfand
  3. Bing Wu
  4. Ting Zhang
  5. Wenxin Li
  6. Tianyu Gao
  7. Chenyu Pang
  8. Taoyu Wu
  9. Yuqing Zhou
  10. Shuai Zhou
  11. Xinhuai Wu
  12. Shihui Han
(2020)
A neurobiological association of revenge propensity during intergroup conflict
eLife 9:e52014.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.52014

Share this article

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.52014

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