Same brain region weighs decisions made for others as well as for self

MRI image highlighting the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in the brain.
Researchers have found that the same area of the prefrontal cortex, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, performs calculations for choices made for oneself and for others.

People often make decisions for others — parents for children or their own elderly parents, for instance. But are there differences in how the brain processes decisions you make for others and those you make for yourself? Yale researchers report that a single brain region is key in calculating decisions you make for yourself and those you make for others, they report June 13 in the journal eLife.

While undergoing fMRI scans, subjects were asked to make decisions such as whether to take $5 now or $10 next week or whether to make a high-risk bet.  The subjects also watched others making similar simulated choices and then were asked to decide which options to select for them. The researchers found that the same area of the prefrontal cortex, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, performed calculations for the choices subjects made for themselves and for others.  Machine learning approaches allowed researchers to predict the choice the subject would make for the other person from just the data generated from the scans.

One day we may be able to predict the decision a person makes for another from a readout alone,” said Steve Chang, assistant professor of psychology and of neuroscience and senior author on the paper.

Matthew Piva, former graduate student in Chang’s lab at Yale, is lead author on the paper, and Ifat Levy, an associate professor of comparative medicine, psychology, and neuroscience, collaborated on this work.

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Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322