July 25, 2016 12:30 - 14:00

Mortality salience attenuates the in-group bias of costly punishment: a functional MRI investigation

[Speaker] Krueger, Frank:1,6,7
[Co-author] Feng, Chunliang:2, Azarian, Bobby:3, Tian, Tengxiang:2, Wang, Lili:4, Feng, Xue:2, Luo, Yue-jia:5
1:George Mason University (United States of America), 2:State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Beijing Normal University, China (China (People's Republic of China)), 3:The Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University, USA (United States of America), 4:School of Educational Science, Huaiyin Normal University, Huaian, China (China (People's Republic of China)), 5:Institute of Affective and Social Neuroscience, Shenzhen University, China (China (People's Republic of China)), 6:Molecular Neuroscience Department, George Mason University, USA (United States of America), 7:Department of Psychology, George Mason University, USA (United States of America)

When individuals are reminded of mortality, social norms and worldviews that reflect group membership become more salient. Although this phenomenon affects social behaviors, its underlying neural signature remains obscure. Here, we combined a second-party punishment task with fMRI to examine the behavioral and neural correlates of costly punishment to racial intergroup interactions after either negative-affect or mortality-salience priming. Results showed that out-group members received harsher punishment than in-group members after negative-affect priming, with activation in regions implicated in encoding aversive feelings (anterior insula, thalamus). This in-group bias was attenuated after mortality-salience priming, with stronger functional connectivity between anterior insula and regions important in emotional regulation (ventromedial prefrontal cortex), and between thalamus and mentalizing regions (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, dmPFC). The stronger the connectivity between thalamus and dmPFC, the less out-group members were punished after mortality reminders. These findings have implications for understanding real-life intergroup interactions in the context of existential threat.
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