Distinguishing neural correlates of context-dependent advantageous- and disadvantageous-inequity aversion

Xiaoxue Gao, Hongbo Yu, Ignacio Sáez, Philip R. Blue, Lusha Zhu, Ming Hsu, Xiaolin Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Humans can integrate social contextual information into decision-making processes to adjust their responses toward inequity. This context dependency emerges when individuals receive more (i.e., advantageous inequity) or less (i.e., disadvantageous inequity) than others. However, it is not clear whether context-dependent processing of advantageous and disadvantageous inequity involves differential neurocognitive mechanisms. Here, we used fMRI to address this question by combining an interactive game that modulates social contexts (e.g., interpersonal guilt) with computational models that enable us to characterize individual weights on inequity aversion. In each round, the participant played a dot estimation task with an anonymous coplayer. The coplayer would receive pain stimulation with 50% probability when either of them responded incorrectly. At the end of each round, the participant completed a variant of dictator game, which determined payoffs for him/herself and the coplayer. Computational modeling demonstrated the context dependency of inequity aversion: when causing pain to the coplayer (i.e., guilt context), participants cared more about the advantageous inequity and became more tolerant of the disadvantageous inequity, compared with other conditions. Consistently, neuroimaging results suggested the two types of inequity were associated with differential neurocognitive substrates. While the context-dependent processing of advantageous inequity was associated with social- and mentalizing-related processes, involving left anterior insula, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, the context-dependent processing of disadvantageous inequity was primarily associated with emotion- and conflict-related processes, involving left posterior insula, right amygdala, and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. These results extend our understanding of decision-making processes related to inequity aversion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E7680-E7689
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 14 2018


  • Advantageous inequity
  • Disadvantageous inequity
  • FMRI
  • Guilt context
  • Insula

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Distinguishing neural correlates of context-dependent advantageous- and disadvantageous-inequity aversion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this