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Default distrust? An fMRI investigation of the neural development of trust and cooperation

Fett, A-K., Gromann, P. M., Giampietro, V. , Shergill, S. S. & Krabbendam, L. (2014). Default distrust? An fMRI investigation of the neural development of trust and cooperation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(4), pp. 395-402. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss144


The tendency to trust and to cooperate increases from adolescence to adulthood. This social development has been associated with improved mentalizing and age-related changes in brain function. Thus far, there is limited imaging data investigating these associations. We used two trust games with a trustworthy and an unfair partner to explore the brain mechanisms underlying trust and cooperation in subjects ranging from adolescence to mid-adulthood. Increasing age was associated with higher trust at the onset of social interactions, increased levels of trust during interactions with a trustworthy partner and a stronger decline in trust during interactions with an unfair partner. Our findings demonstrate a behavioural shift towards higher trust and an age-related increase in the sensitivity to others’ negative social signals. Increased brain activation in mentalizing regions, i.e. temporo-parietal junction, posterior cingulate and precuneus, supported the behavioural change. Additionally, age was associated with reduced activation in the reward-related orbitofrontal cortex and caudate nucleus during interactions with a trustworthy partner, possibly reflecting stronger expectations of trustworthiness. During unfair interactions, age-related increases in anterior cingulate activation, an area implicated in conflict monitoring, may mirror the necessity to inhibit pro-social tendencies in the face of the partner’s actual levels of cooperation.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact
Publisher Keywords: fMRI, perspective taking, theory of mind, trust game, development
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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