June 17, 2024
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex

New Study Identifies Role of Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex in Facilitating Helping Behaviors

Understanding the neural mechanisms underlying prosocial behaviors is crucial for addressing complex global issues, such as climate change, disease outbreaks, and international conflicts. Moreover, discovering new methods to treat disorders related to social interactions is of great significance. A recent study published in Nature Human Behaviour sheds light on this matter, revealing the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) as a key player in facilitating helping behaviors.

Prosocial behaviors are vital for addressing global challenges, yet humans often find helping others to be an effortful task. According to Professor Patricia Lockwood from the University of Birmingham and the University of Oxford, “Understanding how effortful helping decisions are processed in the brain is essential for motivating individuals to tackle large-scale issues.”

Previous research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has linked the vmPFC, a region situated at the front of the brain health device, to decision-making and other executive functions. However, these techniques cannot definitively establish whether a specific brain area is essential for these functions.

To investigate the role of vmPFC in helping behaviors, the researchers recruited three groups of participants: 25 patients with vmPFC damage, 15 patients with damage elsewhere in the brain, and 40 healthy age and gender-matched control participants. This design enabled the researchers to isolate the impact of vmPFC damage on helping behaviors.

During the experiment, participants engaged in a decision-making task where they could earn rewards (bonus money) for themselves and another person by exerting physical effort (squeezing a grip force device). The researchers designed the task to create the impression that participants’ efforts would have real consequences, while concealing any information about the other person that could influence decision-making.

The findings of this study provide the first empirical evidence that the vmPFC is essential for helping behaviors, as participants with vmPFC damage were less willing to exert effort to help others compared to healthy control participants. This research not only advances our understanding of the neural underpinnings of prosocial behaviors but also offers potential avenues for developing novel interventions to treat disorders related to social interactions.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public Source, Desk Research
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