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Review Article

Exp Neurobiol 2014; 23(1): 1-27

Published online March 30, 2014

© The Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences

Cerebral Lateralization of Pro- and Anti-Social Tendencies

David Hecht*

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom

Correspondence to: *To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received: December 2, 2013; Revised: January 18, 2014; Accepted: February 17, 2014


Mounting evidence suggest that the right-hemisphere (RH) has a relative advantage, over the left-hemisphere (LH), in mediating social intelligence - identifying social stimuli, understanding the intentions of other people, awareness of the dynamics in social relationships, and successful handling of social interactions. Furthermore, a review and synthesis of the literature suggest that pro-social attitudes and behaviors are associated with physiological activity in the RH, whereas unsocial and anti-social tendencies are mediated primarily by the LH. This hemispheric asymmetry is rooted in several neurobiological and functional differences between the two hemispheres. (I) Positive social interactions often require inhibiting one's immediate desires and considering the perspectives and needs of others. Given that self-control is mediated by the RH, pro-social emotions and behaviors are, therefore, inherently associated with the RH as it subserves the brain's self-restraint mechanisms. (II) The RH mediates experiences of vulnerability. It registers the relative clumsiness and motor weakness of the left limbs, and it is involved, more than the LH, in processing threats and mediating fear. Emotional states of vulnerability trigger the need for affiliation and sociality, therefore the RH has a greater role in mediating pro-social attitudes and behaviors. (III) The RH mediates a holistic mode of representing the world. Holistic perception emphasizes similarities rather than differences, takes a long-term perspective, is associated with divergent thinking and seeing other points-of-view, and it mediates a personal mode of relating to people. All these features of holistic perception facilitate a more empathetic attitude toward others and pro-social behaviors.

Keywords: cerebral lateralization, hemispheric asymmetry, laterality, altruism, self-control, holistic perception, need for affiliation, need for power, pro-social, anti-social