Yang, Zhang, Ni, De Dreu, Ma (2020) Within-group synchronization in the prefrontal cortex associates with intergroup conflict Nature neuroscience 23(6) 754-760
Individuals immersed in groups sometimes lose their individuality, take risks they would normally avoid and approach outsiders with unprovoked hostility. In this study, we identified within-group neural synchronization in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) and the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) as a candidate mechanism underlying intergroup hostility. We organized 546 individuals into 91 three-versus-three-person intergroup competitions, induced in-group bonding or no-bonding control manipulation and measured neural activity and within-group synchronization using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. After in-group bonding (versus control), individuals gave more money to in-group members than to out-group members and contributed more money to outcompete their rivals. In-group bonding decreased rDLPFC activity and increased functional connectivity between the rDLPFC and the rTPJ. Especially during the out-group attack, in-group bonding also increased within-group synchronization in both the rDLPFC and the rTPJ, and within-group rDLPFC synchronization positively correlated with intergroup hostility. Within-group synchronized reduction in prefrontal activity might explain how in-group bonding leads to impulsive and collective hostility toward outsiders.