Neuroanatomical basis of concern-based altruism in virtual environment

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Costly altruism entails helping others at a cost to the self and prior work shows that empathic concern (EC) for the well-being of distressed and vulnerable individuals is one of the primary motivators of such behavior. However, extant work has investigated costly altruism with paradigms that did not feature self-relevant and severe costs for the altruist and have solely focused on neurofunctional, and not neuroanatomical, correlates. In the current study, we used a contextually-rich virtual reality environment to study costly altruism and found that individuals who risked their own lives in the virtual world to try to save someone in danger had enlarged right anterior insula and exhibited greater empathic concern than those who did not. These findings add to the growing literature showing the role of caring motivation in promoting altruism and prosociality and its neural correlates in the right anterior insula.HIGHLIGHTSDeformation-based morphometry was performed on 80 participants.Participants performed costly altruism task and completed empathy measure.Costly altruism task was implemented in virtual reality with high ecologically validity.Altruists had greater empathic concern and an expanded insular lobe than non-altruists.

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