sciencedirect.com, NeuroImage, Volume 96, 1 August 2014, Pages 36–43, M. Cikaraa, A.C. Jenkinsb, N. Dufourc, R. Saxec uitleg of detail .2013

Reduced self-referential neural response during intergroup competition predicts competitor harm

• Participants performed a competitive task alone and as part of a group.
• Reduced mPFC response to self-relevant content is associated with later competitor harm.
• This effect is specific to group competition and to moral content.
• Group competition also disrupts the self-reference memory effect/mPFC relationship.


Abstract

Why do interactions become more hostile when social relations shift from “me versus you” to “us versus them”? One possibility is that acting with a group can reduce spontaneous self-referential processing in the moral domain and, in turn, facilitate competitor harm. We tested this hypothesis in an fMRI experiment in which (i) participants performed a competitive task once alone and once with a group; (ii) spontaneous self-referential processing during competition was indexed unobtrusively by activation in an independently localized region of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) associated with self-reference; and (iii) we assessed participants' willingness to harm competitors versus teammates. As predicted, participants who showed reduced mPFC activation in response to descriptions of their own moral behaviors while competing in a group were more willing to harm competitors. These results suggest that intergroup competition (above and beyond inter-personal competition) can reduce self-referential processing of moral information, enabling harmful behaviors towards members of a competitive group.


Keywords
Self; Intergroup competition; Medial prefrontal cortex; fMRI; Social cognition

Corresponding author contact information
Corresponding author at: Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA. Fax: + 1 412 268 6938.
Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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