Emotions associated with social competitiveness may be linked to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, according to a recent study. The study used a sample of 48 patients with lesions in differing areas of the brain and 35 patients who were healthy as controls. The patients were asked to perform simple cognitive and affective tasks to discover which areas of the brain affect envy and gloating. According to the study, patients with lesions in the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex had difficulty assessing emotions of both envy and gloating. Patients with lesions in the inferior parietal lobule and left hemisphere had greater problems identifying gloating. Conversely, patients with lesions in the right hemisphere of the brain had greater difficulty in identifying envy. The following is an excerpt of an article from Journal Watch that discusses the findings of the study:
Some evidence suggests that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex plays a role in recognizing social competitive emotions. To explore its role in envy and gloating, researchers used simple cognitive and affective tasks, based on cartoons used in child psychology, to compare ability to recognize the emotions of others. Subjects were 48 patients with brain lesions in different locations (ventromedial, dorsolateral, mixed, superior parietal, inferior parietal, and mesial temporal) and 35 healthy controls. Envy was considered negative (the person experiencing it feels bad), and gloating was considered positive (the person experiencing it feels good).
Patients with right ventromedial lesions had difficulty recognizing both envy and gloating. Lesions in the inferior parietal lobule and in the left hemisphere were associated with greater difficulty in recognizing gloating, whereas lesions in the right hemisphere were associated with greater difficulty in recognizing envy. The authors conclude that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is implicated in decoding these emotions in others and infer that these findings yet again demonstrate the role of the ventromedial cortex in “theory of mind” (awareness of others’ beliefs and thoughts).