Neural basis of conditional cooperation

Shinsuke Suzuki, Kazuhisa Niki, Syoken Fujisaki, Eizo Akiyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


Cooperation among genetically unrelated individuals is a fundamental aspect of society, but it has been a longstanding puzzle in biological and social sciences. Recently, theoretical studies in biology and economics showed that conditional cooperation -cooperating only with those who have exhibited cooperative behavior-can spread over a society. Furthermore, experimental studies in psychology demonstrated that people are actually conditional cooperators. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the neural system underlying conditional cooperation by scanning participants during interaction with cooperative, neutral and non-cooperative opponents in prisoner's dilemma games. The results showed that: (i) participants cooperated more frequently with both cooperative and neutral opponents than with non-cooperative opponents; and (ii) a brain area related to cognitive inhibition of pre-potent responses (right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) showed greater activation, especially when participants confronted non-cooperative opponents. Consequently, we suggest that cognitive inhibition of the motivation to cooperate with non-cooperators drives the conditional behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbernsq042
Pages (from-to)338-347
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Jun
Externally publishedYes


  • Cooperation
  • Functional MRI
  • Neuroeconomics
  • Prisoner's dilemma game
  • Reciprocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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