Neural substrates underlying the tendency to accept anger-infused ultimatum offers during dynamic social interactions

Gadi Gilam*, Tamar Lin, Gal Raz, Shir Azrielant, Eyal Fruchter, Dan Ariely, Talma Hendler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


In managing our way through interpersonal conflict, anger might be crucial in determining whether the dispute escalates to aggressive behaviors or resolves cooperatively. The Ultimatum Game (UG) is a social decision-making paradigm that provides a framework for studying interpersonal conflict over division of monetary resources. Unfair monetary UG-offers elicit anger and while accepting them engages regulatory processes, rejecting them is regarded as an aggressive retribution. Ventro-medial prefrontal-cortex (vmPFC) activity has been shown to relate to idiosyncratic tendencies in accepting unfair offers possibly through its role in emotion regulation. Nevertheless, standard UG paradigms lack fundamental aspects of real-life social interactions in which one reacts to other people in a response contingent fashion. To uncover the neural substrates underlying the tendency to accept anger-infused ultimatum offers during dynamic social interactions, we incorporated on-line verbal negotiations with an obnoxious partner in a repeated-UG during fMRI scanning. We hypothesized that vmPFC activity will differentiate between individuals with high or low monetary gains accumulated throughout the game and reflect a divergence in the associated emotional experience. We found that as individuals gained more money, they reported less anger but also more positive feelings and had slower sympathetic response. In addition, high-gain individuals had increased vmPFC activity, but also decreased brainstem activity, which possibly reflected the locus coeruleus. During the more angering unfair offers, these individuals had increased dorsal-posterior Insula (dpI) activity which functionally coupled to the medial-thalamus (mT). Finally, both vmPFC activity and dpI-mT connectivity contributed to increased gain, possibly by modulating the ongoing subjective emotional experience. These ecologically valid findings point towards a neural mechanism that might nurture pro-social interactions by modulating an individual's dynamic emotional experience.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)400-411
Number of pages12
StatePublished - 5 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Chicago's Arete Initiative — A New Science of Virtues Program (grant number 39174-07 TH ); the U.S. Department of Defense award (grant number W81XWH-11-2-0008 TH ); EU FP7 Health Cooperation Programme — BrainTrain Project (grant number 602186 TH ); the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee (grant number 51/11 TH ); and the Levy Edersheim Gitter Institute for Neuroimaging and the Adams Super Center for Brain Studies, Tel Aviv University (GG).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • Anger regulation
  • FMRI
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Locus coeruleus
  • Social decision-making
  • VmPFC


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