Us versus them: Social identity shapes neural responses to intergroup competition and harm

Mina Cikara, Matthew M. Botvinick, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

327 Scopus citations


Intergroup competition makes social identity salient, which in turn affects how people respond to competitors' hardships. The failures of an in-group member are painful, whereas those of a rival out-group member may give pleasure-a feeling that may motivate harming rivals. The present study examined whether valuation-related neural responses to rival groups' failures correlate with likelihood of harming individuals associated with those rivals. Avid fans of the Red Sox and Yankees teams viewed baseball plays while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Subjectively negative outcomes (failure of the favored team or success of the rival team) activated anterior cingulate cortex and insula, whereas positive outcomes (success of the favored team or failure of the rival team, even against a third team) activated ventral striatum. The ventral striatum effect, associated with subjective pleasure, also correlated with self-reported likelihood of aggressing against a fan of the rival team (controlling for general aggression). Outcomes of social group competition can directly affect primary reward-processing neural systems, which has implications for intergroup harm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-313
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • fMRI
  • harm
  • intergroup competition
  • schadenfreude
  • ventral striatum


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