Gaining while giving: An fMRI study of the rewards of family assistance among white and latino youth

Eva H. Telzer, Carrie L. Masten, Elliot T. Berkman, Matthew D. Lieberman, Andrew J. Fuligni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Family assistance is an important aspect of family relationships for adolescents across many cultures and contexts. Motivations to help family members may be driven by both cultural factors and early family experiences. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine (1) cultural differences in neural reward activity among White and Latino youth during online experiences of family assistance and (2) how prior family experiences related to neural reward activity when helping the family. Participants were scanned as they made decisions to contribute money to their family and themselves. Latino and White participants showed similar behavioral levels of helping but distinct patterns of neural activity within the mesolimbic reward system. Whereas Latino participants showed more reward activity when contributing to their family, White participants showed more reward activity when gaining cash for themselves. In addition, participants who felt more identified with their family and who derived greater fulfillment from helping their family two years prior to the scan showed increased reward system activation when contributing to their family. These results suggest that family assistance may be guided, in part, by the personal rewards one attains from that assistance, and that this sense of reward may be modulated by cultural influences and prior family experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)508-518
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Family assistance
  • Reward
  • Social identity
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Development
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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