How do self-interest and other-need interact in the brain to determine altruistic behavior?
Altruistic behavior, i.e., promoting the welfare of others at a cost to oneself, is subserved by the integration of various social, affective, and economic factors represented in extensive brain regions. However, it is unclear how different regions interact to process/integrate information regarding the helper's interest and recipient's need when deciding whether to behave altruistically. Here we combined an interactive game with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to characterize the neural network underlying the processing/integration of self-interest and other-need. At the behavioral level, high self-risk decreased helping behavior and high other-need increased helping behavior. At the neural level, activity in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) were positively associated with self-risk levels, and activity in right inferior parietal lobe (rIPL) and rDLPFC were negatively associated with other-need levels. Dynamic causal modeling further suggested that both MPFC and rIPL were extrinsically connected to rDLPFC; high self-risk enhanced the effective connectivity from MPFC to rDLPFC, and the modulatory effect of other-need on the connectivity from rIPL to rDLPFC positively correlated with the modulatory effect of other-need on individuals' helping rate. Two tDCS experiments provided causal evidence that rDLPFC affects both self-interest and other-need concerns, and rIPL selectively affects the other-need concerns. These findings suggest a crucial role of the MPFC-IPL-DLPFC network during altruistic decision-making, with rDLPFC as a central node for integrating and modulating motives regarding self-interest and other-need.