Humans have a considerable facility to adapt their behavior in a manner that is appropriate to social or societal context. A failure of this ability can lead to social exclusion and is a feature of disorders such as psychopathy and disruptive behavior disorder. We investigated the neural basis of this ability using a customized video game played by 12 healthy participants in an fMRI scanner. Two conditions involved extreme examples of context-appropriate action: shooting an aggressive humanoid assailant or healing a passive wounded person. Two control conditions involved carefully matched stimuli paired with inappropriate actions: shooting the person or healing the assailant. Surprisingly, the same circuit, including the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, was activated when participants acted in a context-appropriate manner, whether being compassionate towards an injured conspecific or aggressive towards a violent assailant. The findings indicate a common system that guides behavioral expression appropriate to social or societal context irrespective of its aggressive or compassionate nature.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience