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Front. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00994

Neural Correlates of Self-Construal Priming in the Ultimatum Game

  • 1VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands

Research from cultural and social psychology has identified a central role of self-construal, or the way one views themselves in relation to others, in social cognition. Accordingly, it is plausible that self-construal plays an instrumental role in important aspects of decision-making relating to fairness considerations. Prior research has shown that priming methodology is a useful tool to experimentally isolate the effect of self-construal on social decision-making processes. In the current study we investigated the neural effects of self-construal priming on fairness considerations, using an Ultimatum Game setup (N = 97). Based on previous findings, we predicted an interaction between the self-construal prime and gender on Ultimatum Game behavior; males primed with interdependence would reject the offer relatively more compared to independence, and vice versa for females. As previous neuro-imaging research has established an instrumental role of the anterior insula (AI) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in the rejection of unfair offers, we expected higher rejection rates to be mirrored by increased activity in these regions. However, the analyses did not confirm these predictions. As further inspection of the data revealed a habituation effect, we performed a follow-up analysis on the first block (N = 59). This subsequent analysis revealed that priming interdependence resulted in reduced AI activity compared to priming independence, although no behavioral differences were observed. The difference was theorized to result from motivations as conflict avoidance and harmony maintenance, commonly associated with interdependence. Furthermore, the analysis revealed greater vmPFC activity for females compared to males for rejected offers, although this effect was not robust when controlled for trait self-construal. These follow-up analyses suggest that self-construal priming influences insula activity, as well as implicating an underlying role of trait self-construal in observed gender differences in vmPFC activity relating to fairness considerations.

Keywords: fMRI, Self-construal, decision-making, priming, ultimatum game

Received: 11 Mar 2019; Accepted: 03 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Flinkenflogel, van Kesteren, Vu and Krabbendam. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Nic Flinkenflogel, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands,