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A Key Role for Similarity in Vicarious Reward

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Science  15 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5929, pp. 900
DOI: 10.1126/science.1170539

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Abstract

Humans appear to have an inherent prosocial tendency toward one another in that we often take pleasure in seeing others succeed. This fact is almost certainly exploited by game shows, yet why watching others win elicits a pleasurable vicarious rewarding feeling in the absence of personal economic gain is unclear. One explanation is that game shows use contestants who have similarities to the viewing population, thereby kindling kin-motivated responses (for example, prosocial behavior). Using a game show–inspired paradigm, we show that the interactions between the ventral striatum and anterior cingulate cortex subserve the modulation of vicarious reward by similarity, respectively. Our results support studies showing that similarity acts as a proximate neurobiological mechanism where prosocial behavior extends to unrelated strangers.

  • These authors contributed equally to this work.

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