Justice for the average Joe: The role of envy and the mentalizing network in the deservingness of others' misfortunes

David S. Chester, Caitlin A. J. Powell, Richard H. Smith, Jane E. Joseph, Gayannėe Kedia, David J. Y. Combs, C. Nathan DeWall
2013 Social Neuroscience  
The misfortunes of enviable individuals are met by observers with pleasure whereas those of "average", non-enviable individuals elicit pain. These responses are mirrored in deservingness judgments, as enviable individuals' misfortunes are perceived as deserved and those of non-enviable individuals perceived as undeserved. However, the neural underpinnings of these deservingness disparities remain unknown. To explore this phenomenon, we utilized fMRI to test the hypotheses that (A) non-enviable
more » ... argets' misfortunes would be associated with activation of brain regions that mediate empathic responding (pain matrix, mentalizing network) and not for enviable targets and (B) that activation of those regions would predict decreases in deservingness judgments. Supporting our first hypothesis, the misfortunes of non-enviable targets (as opposed to good fortunes) were associated with activation of the mentalizing network: medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, temporal-parietal junction, and anterior temporal lobes. Supporting our second hypothesis, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex activation from this contrast was negatively correlated with subsequent reports of how much the non-enviable target deserved his/her misfortune. These findings suggest that non-enviable individuals' misfortunes are perceived as unjust due, in part, to the recruitment of the mentalizing network.
doi:10.1080/17470919.2013.846278 pmid:24138447 fatcat:l4oixda5yrcrrf7utppplhqztq