The science behind rewards and punishment

May 8, 2014, University of Queensland
The science behind rewards and punishment
Study finds that personality traits influence activity in punishment-related brain areas.

(Medical Xpress)—In a neuroimaging study, a UQ psychologist has examined whether having allegiances with someone can affect feelings of empathy when punishing and rewarding others.

An international team of researchers, including Dr Pascal Molenberghs from UQ's School of Psychology, mapped the while volunteers where giving electroshocks or money to members within or outside their group.

Dr Molenberghs said the research was a first of its kind and demonstrated that different neural responses were involved when delivering rewards or punishment to others.

"When we reward others we activate similar as when we receive rewards ourselves," he said.

"However, these areas become more active when we reward members from our own group.

"Previous research has shown that we prefer to give more money to people from our own group, now we can actually show that this is associated with increased activation in reward-related brain areas, which is really exciting.

"The brain responses for punishing others directly revealed a different pattern of activation, one that was typically associated with receiving and seeing others in pain," Dr Molenberghs said.

The study also found that personality traits influenced activity in these punishment-related areas.

People who did not care as much about others, showed less activation in these areas when shocking others, especially when they were shocking out-group members.

Co-author Professor Jean Decety, from the University of Chicago, said the results provided important insights into why some people don't care as much when hurting others.

"Empathy and sympathy are necessary abilities to understand the potential consequences decisions will have on the feelings and emotions of others, even if the recipients of those decisions belong to a different group," he said.

The study was published in the journal of Human Brain Mapping, which is the leading journal in the field of radiology, nuclear medicine and medical imaging.

Explore further: Brain scans link concern for justice with reason, not emotion

More information: Molenberghs, P., Bosworth, R., Nott, Z., Louis, W. R., Smith, J. R., Amiot, C. E., Vohs, K. D. and Decety, J. (2014), "The influence of group membership and individual differences in psychopathy and perspective taking on neural responses when punishing and rewarding others." Hum. Brain Mapp.. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22527

Related Stories

Brain scans link concern for justice with reason, not emotion

March 28, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—People who care about justice are swayed more by reason than emotion, according to new brain scan research from the Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.

Seeing really is believing

February 1, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Want to know why sports fans get so worked up when they think the referee has wrongly called their team's pass forward, their player offside, or their serve as a fault?

Punishment can enhance performance, academics find

March 13, 2013
The stick can work just as well as the carrot in improving our performance, a team of academics at The University of Nottingham has found. A study led by researchers from the University's School of Psychology, published recently ...

Pleasure and pain brain signals disrupted in fibromyalgia patients

November 5, 2013
New research indicates that a disruption of brain signals for reward and punishment contributes to increased pain sensitivity, known as hyperalgesia, in fibromyalgia patients. Results published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, ...

Brain imaging study reveals what makes some people more susceptible to peer influence

April 29, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A brain area activated by group decisions can distinguish people more likely to conform to the will of a group, say researchers from UCL.

Musical training increases blood flow in the brain

May 7, 2014
Research by the University of Liverpool has found that brief musical training can increase the blood flow in the left hemisphere of our brain. This suggests that the areas responsible for music and language share common brain ...

Recommended for you

Your brain responses to music reveal if you're a musician or not

January 23, 2018
How your brain responds to music listening can reveal whether you have received musical training, according to new Nordic research conducted in Finland (University of Jyväskylä and AMI Center) and Denmark (Aarhus University).

New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components

January 22, 2018
Neuron-like cells created from a readily available cell line have allowed researchers to investigate how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. A team led by researchers ...

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.