Neural representations of vicarious rewards are linked to interoception and prosocial behaviour

Luis Sebastian Contreras-Huerta, Michel Pierre Coll, Geoffrey Bird, Hongbo Yu, Annayah Prosser, Patricia L. Lockwood, Jennifer Murphy, M. J. Crockett, Matthew A.J. Apps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Every day we constantly observe other people receiving rewards. Theoretical accounts posit that vicarious reward processing might be linked to people's sensitivity to internal body states (interoception) and facilitates a tendency to act prosocially. However, the neural processes underlying the links between vicarious reward processing, interoception, and prosocial behaviour are poorly understood. Previous research has linked vicarious reward processing to the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg) and the anterior insula (AI). Can we predict someone's propensity to be prosocial or to be aware of interoceptive signals from variability in how the ACCg and AI process rewards? Here, participants monitored rewards being delivered to themselves or a stranger during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Later, they performed a task measuring their willingness to exert effort to obtain rewards for others, and a task measuring their propensity to be aware and use interoceptive respiratory signals. Using multivariate similarity analysis, we show that people's willingness to be prosocial is predicted by greater similarity between self and other representations in the ACCg. Moreover, greater dissimilarity in self-other representations in the AI is linked to interoceptive propensity. These findings highlight that vicarious reward is linked to bodily signals in AI, and foster prosocial tendencies through the ACCg.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119881
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Anterior insula
  • Interoception
  • Prosocial behaviour
  • Vicarious reward


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