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Relative Activation Patterns Associated With Self-Transcendent and Self-Enhancement Core Values: An fMRI Study of Basic Human Values Theory Concepts in Males

An abstract illustration of a person's silhouette with neurons growing on the back of their head.

Social Neuroscience

Adam R. Teed, Jelena Rakic, Daniel B. Mark and Daniel C. Krawcyzk

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Core values influence human behavior by directing goals, decisions and motivations. Despite the significant effects of values on social behaviors, the corresponding patterns of brain activity during such social decisions had been understudied. In this study, participants were shown real-world activities and asked to rate how worthwhile the activity was and how likely they would be to participate in the activity. The activities displayed were categorized into those of power (insisting that rookies carry sports equipment for you and the other experienced players on the team), achievement (attend weekly meetings of an organization focused on networking within your career field), benevolence (volunteering to talk with and read to an ill neighbor at a local hospital), or universalism (volunteering to travel with and help an organization that builds home for needy families in developing countries). Participants viewed the activities and made their ratings while receiving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The results revealed that activities related to benevolence and universalism elicited greater brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex – areas typically involved in social cognition and behavior. Activities related to power, benevolence, and universalism all elicited greater activation in the moral processing regions of the brain. This study built upon previous core values research by demonstrating the associated brain regions activated when evaluating real-world social behaviors.

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Daniel Krawczyk, PhD

Deputy Director of Research Debbie and Jim Francis Chair and Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

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