Neural representations of vicarious rewards are linked to interoception and prosocial behaviour

Luis Sebastian Contreras-Huerta*, Michel-Pierre Coll, Geoffrey Bird, Hongbo Yu, Annayah Prosser, Patricia L. Lockwood, Jennifer Murphy, M.J. Crockett, Matthew A.J. Apps*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Every day we constantly observe other people receiving rewards. Theoretical accounts posit that vicarious reward processing might be linked to people's sensitivity to internal body states (interoception) and facilitates a tendency to act prosocially. However, the neural processes underlying the links between vicarious reward processing, interoception, and prosocial behaviour are poorly understood. Previous research has linked vicarious reward processing to the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg) and the anterior insula (AI). Can we predict someone's propensity to be prosocial or to be aware of interoceptive signals from variability in how the ACCg and AI process rewards? Here, participants monitored rewards being delivered to themselves or a stranger during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Later, they performed a task measuring their willingness to exert effort to obtain rewards for others, and a task measuring their propensity to be aware and use interoceptive respiratory signals. Using multivariate similarity analysis, we show that people's willingness to be prosocial is predicted by greater similarity between self and other representations in the ACCg. Moreover, greater dissimilarity in self-other representations in the AI is linked to interoceptive propensity. These findings highlight that vicarious reward is linked to bodily signals in AI, and foster prosocial tendencies through the ACCg.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119881
Number of pages13
Early online date23 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Anterior insula
  • Vicarious reward
  • Interoception
  • Prosocial behaviour


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