Beyond revenge: Neural and genetic bases of altruistic punishment

Alexander Strobel, Jan Zimmermann, Anja Schmitz, Martin Reuter, Stefanie Lis, Sabine Windmann, Peter Kirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


It is still debated how altruistic punishment as one form of strong reciprocity has established during evolution and which motives may underlie such behavior. Recent neuroscientific evidence on the activation of brain reward regions during altruistic punishment in two-person one-shot exchange games suggests satisfaction through the punishment of norm violations as one underlying motive. In order to address this issue in more detail, we used fMRI during a one-shot economic exchange game that warrants strong reciprocity by introducing a third party punishment condition wherein revenge is unlikely to play a role. We report here that indeed, reward regions such as the nucleus accumbens showed punishment-related activation. Moreover, we provide preliminary evidence that genetic variation of dopamine turnover impacts similarly on punishment-related nucleus accumbens activation during both first person and third party punishment. The overall pattern of results suggests a common cognitive-affective-motivational network as the driving force for altruistic punishment, with only quantitative differences between first person and third party perspectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-680
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruistic punishment
  • Catechol-O-methyltransferase
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Nucleus caudatus
  • Polymorphism


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