Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 685–698 | Cite as

The neural signatures of egocentric bias in normative decision-making

  • Chunliang Feng
  • Xue Feng
  • Li Wang
  • Lili Wang
  • Ruolei Gu
  • Aiping Ni
  • Gopikrishna Deshpande
  • Zhihao LiEmail author
  • Yue-Jia LuoEmail author
Original Research


Bargaining parties often disagree on what fair is, due to the reason that people are prone to believe that what favors oneself is fair, i.e., an egocentric bias. In this study, we investigated the neural signatures underlying egocentric bias in fairness decision-making, conjoining an adapted ultimatum game (UG) with event-related fMRI and functional connectivity. Participants earned monetary rewards with a partner in a production stage, wherein their contributions to the earnings were manipulated. Afterwards, the joint earnings were randomly divided, and the distribution was presented simultaneously with contribution information to participants, who accepted/rejected distributions of earnings as the same manner in standard UG. We identified an egocentric bias in fairness decisions, such that participants frequently rejected self-contributed disadvantageous outcomes, but much less so in response to other-contributed advantageous outcomes, although both involved mismatch between contribution and payoff. This bias was underpinned by regions involved in representing fairness norms, including the anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). Furthermore, the thalamus activity was predictive of the bias, such that the level of egocentric bias decreased as a function of the activation level of the thalamus. Finally, our functional-connectivity findings indicated that the thalamus worked together with insula and dACC to modulate behavioral egocentric bias in fairness-related decisions. Our findings uncover the neural basis underlying the modulation of egocentric bias in normative decision-making, and highlight the role of neural circuits associated with norm enforcement in this phenomenon.


Fairness Egocentric bias Self-interest Ultimatum game fMRI Psychophysiological interactions 



This study was funded by the Chinese postdoctoral innovation talent support program (BX201600019), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2017 M610055),the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Senzhen University (31671169, 31500920, 31300869, 31671169, and 201564/000099), the foundation of the National Key Laboratory of Human Factors Engineering (HF2012-K-03), and the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province of China (BK20130415).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Author Chunliang Feng, Xue Feng, Li Wang, Lili Wang, Ruolei Gu, Aiping Ni, Gopikrishna Deshpande, Zhihao Li, and Yue-Jia Luo declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, and the applicable revisions at the time of the investigation.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects for being included in the study.

Supplementary material

11682_2018_9893_MOESM1_ESM.docx (108 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 107 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chunliang Feng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xue Feng
    • 3
  • Li Wang
    • 4
  • Lili Wang
    • 5
  • Ruolei Gu
    • 6
    • 7
  • Aiping Ni
    • 6
    • 7
  • Gopikrishna Deshpande
    • 8
    • 9
    • 10
  • Zhihao Li
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yue-Jia Luo
    • 1
    • 11
    Email author
  1. 1.Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Affective and Social Cognitive ScienceShenzhen UniversityShenzhenChina
  2. 2.College of Information Science and TechnologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Modern Teaching Technology of Ministry of EducationShaanxi Normal UniversityXi’anChina
  4. 4.Collaborative Innovation Center of Assessment toward Basic Education QualityBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  5. 5.School of Educational ScienceHuaiyin Normal UniversityHuai’anChina
  6. 6.Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  7. 7.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  8. 8.Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Auburn University MRI Research CenterAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  9. 9.Department of PsychologyAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  10. 10.Alabama Advanced Imaging ConsortiumAuburn University and University of Alabama BirminghamAuburnUSA
  11. 11.Center for Emotion and Brain, Shenzhen Institute of NeuroscienceShenzhenChina

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