Medial prefrontal cortex reacts to unfairness if this damages the self: A tDCS study

Claudia Civai, Carlo Miniussi, Raffaella I. Rumiati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neural correlates of unfairness perception depend on who is the target of the unfair treatment. These previous findings suggest that the activation of medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) is related to unfairness perception only when the subject of the measurement is also the person affected by the unfair treatment. We aim at demonstrating the specificity of MPFC involvement using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a technique that induces cortical excitability changes in the targeted region. We use a modified version of the Ultimatum Game, in which responders play both for themselves (myself-MS condition) and on behalf of an unknown third-party (TP condition), where they respond to unfairness without being the target of it. We find that the application of cathodal tDCS over MPFC decreases the probability of rejecting unfair offers in MS, but not in TP; conversely, the same stimulation increases the probability of rejecting fair offers in TP, but not in MS. We confirm the hypothesis that MPFC is specifically related to processing unfairness when the self is involved, and discuss possible explanations for the opposite effect of the stimulation in TP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1054-1060
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 3 2014


  • MPFC
  • Non-invasive brain stimulation
  • Self-other
  • Ultimatum game
  • Unfairness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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