Neural correlates of trust

Frank Krueger, Kevin McCabe, Jorge Moll, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, Roland Zahn, Maren Strenziok, Armin Heinecke, Jordan Grafman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

276 Scopus citations


Trust is a critical social process that helps us to cooperate with others and is present to some degree in all human interaction. However, the underlying brain mechanisms of conditional and unconditional trust in social reciprocal exchange are still obscure. Here, we used hyperfunctional magnetic resonance imaging, in which two strangers interacted online with one another in a sequential reciprocal trust game while their brains were simultaneously scanned. By designing a nonanonymous, alternating multiround game, trust became bidirectional, and we were able to quantify partnership building and maintenance. Using within- and between-brain analyses, an examination of functional brain activity supports the hypothesis that the preferential activation of different neuronal systems implements these two trust strategies. We show that the paracingulate cortex is critically involved in building a trust relationship by inferring another person's intentions to predict subsequent behavior. This more recently evolved brain region can be differently engaged to interact with more primitive neural systems in maintaining conditional and unconditional trust in a partnership. Conditional trust selectively activated the ventral tegmental area, a region linked to the evaluation of expected and realized reward, whereas unconditional trust selectively activated the septal area, a region linked to social attachment behavior. The interplay of these neural systems supports reciprocal exchange that operates beyond the immediate spheres of kinship, one of the distinguishing features of the human species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20084-20089
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 11 2007


  • Attachment
  • Functional MRI
  • Neuroeconomics
  • Reward
  • Social

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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