Neural correlates of ingroup bias for prosociality in rats

Inbal Ben Ami Bartal*, Jocelyn M. Breton, Huanjie Sheng, Kimberly L.P. Long, Stella Chen, Aline Halliday, Justin W. Kenney, Anne L. Wheeler, Paul Frankland, Carrie Shilyansky, Karl Deisseroth, Dacher Keltner, Daniela Kaufer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Prosocial behavior, in particular helping others in need, occurs preferentially in response to distress of one’s own group members. In order to explore the neural mechanisms promoting mammalian helping behavior, a discovery-based approach was used here to identify brain-wide activity correlated with helping behavior in rats. Demonstrating social selectivity, rats helped others of their strain (‘ingroup’), but not rats of an unfamiliar strain (‘outgroup’), by releasing them from a restrainer. Analysis of brain-wide neural activity via quantification of the early-immediate gene c-Fos identified a shared network, including frontal and insular cortices, that was active in the helping test irrespective of group membership. In contrast, the striatum was selectively active for ingroup members, and activity in the nucleus accumbens, a central network hub, correlated with helping. In vivo calcium imaging showed accumbens activity when rats approached a trapped ingroup member, and retrograde tracing identified a subpopulation of accumbens-projecting cells that was correlated with helping. These findings demonstrate that motivation and reward networks are associated with helping an ingroup member and provide the first description of neural correlates of ingroup bias in rodents.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere65582
StatePublished - Jul 2021


FundersFunder number
Miller Institute for Basic Science, Israel Science Foundation
Shannon Wong-Michalak
University of California Berkeley
Azrieli Foundation
Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences


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