A Caltech Library Service

Empathic concern drives costly altruism

FeldmanHall, Oriel and Dalgleish, Tim and Evans, Davy and Mobbs, Dean (2015) Empathic concern drives costly altruism. NeuroImage, 105 . pp. 347-356. ISSN 1053-8119. PMCID PMC4275572. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.10.043.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Creative Commons Attribution.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Why do we self-sacrifice to help others in distress? Two competing theories have emerged, one suggesting that prosocial behavior is primarily motivated by feelings of empathic other-oriented concern, the other that we help mainly because we are egoistically focused on reducing our own discomfort. Here we explore the relationship between costly altruism and these two sub-processes of empathy, specifically drawing on the caregiving model to test the theory that trait empathic concern (e.g. general tendency to have sympathy for another) and trait personal distress (e.g. predisposition to experiencing aversive arousal states) may differentially drive altruistic behavior. We find that trait empathic concern – and not trait personal distress – motivates costly altruism, and this relationship is supported by activity in the ventral tegmental area, caudate and subgenual anterior cingulate, key regions for promoting social attachment and caregiving. Together, this data helps identify the behavioral and neural mechanisms motivating costly altruism, while demonstrating that individual differences in empathic concern-related brain responses can predict real prosocial choice.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Additional Information:© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY license. Accepted 15 October 2014, Available online 31 October 2014. Open Access funded by Medical Research Council Under a Creative Commons license.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Medical Research Council (UK)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Moral; Caudate; Subgenual ACC; VTA; Empathy; Altruism; Distress
PubMed Central ID:PMC4275572
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180305-082625242
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Oriel FeldmanHall, Tim Dalgleish, Davy Evans, Dean Mobbs, Empathic concern drives costly altruism, NeuroImage, Volume 105, 2015, Pages 347-356, ISSN 1053-8119, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85088
Deposited On:05 Mar 2018 22:45
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:25

Repository Staff Only: item control page