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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01868

Insights from fMRI studies into ingroup bias.

  • 1School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Australia
  • 2School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, Australia

Intergroup biases can manifest themselves between a wide variety of different groups such as people from different races, nations, ethnicities, political or religious beliefs, opposing sport teams or even arbitrary groups. In this review we provide a neuroscientific overview of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies that have revealed how group dynamics impact on various cognitive and emotional systems at different levels of information processing. We first describe how people can perceive the faces, words and actions of ingroup and outgroup members in a biased way. Second, we focus on how activity in brain areas involved in empathising with the pain of others, such as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula (AI), are influenced by group membership. Third, we describe how group membership influences activity in brain areas involved in mentalizing such as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Fourth, we discuss the involvement of the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) in increased moral sensitivity for outgroup threats. Finally, we discuss how brain areas involved in the reward system such as the striatum and medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC), are more active when experiencing schadenfreude for outgroup harm and when rewarding ingroup (versus outgroup) members. The value of these neuroscientific insights to better understand ingroup bias are discussed, as well as limitations and future research directions.

Keywords: Prejudice, intergroup violence, fMRI, social neuroscience, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), Empathy for pain, mentalising, Medial prefrontal cortex, insula, Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), Ingroup bias

Received: 03 Jun 2018; Accepted: 12 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Oscar Vilarroya, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain

Reviewed by:

Ullrich Wagner, Universität Münster, Germany
Clara Pretus, Departamento de Psiquiatría y Medicina Legal, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain  

Copyright: © 2018 Molenberghs and Louis. 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: Dr. Pascal Molenberghs, The University of Melbourne, School of Psychological Sciences, Melbourne, Australia,