Reduced Frontal Cortical Tracking of Conflict between Selfish versus Prosocial Motives in Narcissistic Personality Disorder
David S Stolz, Aline Vater, Björn H Schott, Stefan Roepke, Frieder M Paulus, Sören Krach
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) entails severe impariments in interpersonal functioning that are likely driven by selfish and exploitative behavior. Here, we investigate the underlying motivational and neural mechanisms of prosocial decision-making by experimentally manipulating motivational conflict between selfish and prosocial incentives. One group of patients diagnosed with NPD and a group of healthy controls (CTL) were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a prosocial decision-making task. In this task, we systematically varied the level of conflict between selfish and prosocial options on each trial. We analyzed choice behavior, response times, and neural activity in regions associated with conflict monitoring to test how motivational conflict drives prosocial choice behavior. Participants in the NPD group behaved less prosocially than the CTL group overall. Varying degrees of motivational conflict between selfish and prosocial options induced response variability in both groups, but more so in the CTL group. The NPD group responded faster than the CTL group, unless choosing prosocially, which slowed response times to a level comparable to the CTL group. Additionally, neural activity tracking motivational conflict in dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was reduced in the NPD group. Collectively, low generosity in NPD appears to arise from reduced consideration of prosocial motives, which obviates motivational conflict with selfish motives and entails reduced activity in neural conflict monitoring systems. Yet, our data also indicate that NPD is not marked by an absolute indifference to others’ needs. This points to potentials for improving interpersonal relationships, effectively supporting the well-being of patients and their peers.