A Caltech Library Service

Neurocomputational models of altruistic decision‐making and social motives: Advances, pitfalls, and future directions

Tusche, Anita and Bas, Lisa M. (2021) Neurocomputational models of altruistic decision‐making and social motives: Advances, pitfalls, and future directions. WIREs Cognitive Science, 12 (6). Art. No. e1571. ISSN 1939-5078. doi:10.1002/wcs.1571.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


This article discusses insights from computational models and social neuroscience into motivations, precursors, and mechanisms of altruistic decision-making and other-regard. We introduce theoretical and methodological tools for researchers who wish to adopt a multilevel, computational approach to study behaviors that promote others' welfare. Using examples from recent studies, we outline multiple mental and neural processes relevant to altruism. To this end, we integrate evidence from neuroimaging, psychology, economics, and formalized mathematical models. We introduce basic mechanisms—pertinent to a broad range of value-based decisions—and social emotions and cognitions commonly recruited when our decisions involve other people. Regarding the latter, we discuss how decomposing distinct facets of social processes can advance altruistic models and the development of novel, targeted interventions. We propose that an accelerated synthesis of computational approaches and social neuroscience represents a critical step towards a more comprehensive understanding of altruistic decision-making. We discuss the utility of this approach to study lifespan differences in social preference in late adulthood, a crucial future direction in aging global populations. Finally, we review potential pitfalls and recommendations for researchers interested in applying a computational approach to their research.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Tusche, Anita0000-0003-4180-8447
Bas, Lisa M.0000-0003-0376-0059
Additional Information:© 2021 The Authors. WIREs Cognitive Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made. Issue Online: 21 October 2021; Version of Record online: 02 August 2021; Manuscript accepted: 01 July 2021; Manuscript revised: 23 June 2021; Manuscript received: 06 February 2021. We acknowledge the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) (funding reference number RGPIN-2019-04329), the Canada Foundation for Innovation, John R. Evans Leaders Fund (CFI JELF project 38812), and the NIMH Conte Center (2P50 MH094258). We thank Ian D. Roberts and Caroline J. Charpentier for helpful comments on sections of this manuscript. Author Contributions: Lisa M. Bas: Conceptualization; methodology; validation; visualization; writing - original draft; writing-review & editing. Anita Tusche: Conceptualization; formal analysis; funding acquisition; investigation; methodology; project administration; supervision; validation; visualization; writing - original draft; writing-review & editing. The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article. Data Availability Statement: Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analyzed in this study.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)RGPIN-2019-04329
Canada Foundation for Innovation38812
NIH2P50 MH094258
Subject Keywords:decision neuroscience; drift diffusion models; prosociality; social affect and cognition (theory of mind); social choice tasks
Issue or Number:6
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210823-223106900
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Tusche, A., & Bas, L. M. (2021). Neurocomputational models of altruistic decision-making and social motives: Advances, pitfalls, and future directions. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 12(6), e1571.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:110395
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:24 Aug 2021 17:44
Last Modified:28 Oct 2021 22:03

Repository Staff Only: item control page