Saturday, May 28, 2016

Your brain might be hard-wired for altruism

I read a study years ago on altruism. They were trying to find out how altruism develops. They thought it was learned. But they concluded it was inborn. As they studied children at different ages, they found even babies showed evidence of altruism. They also observed that rather than being taught to be altruistic, children are taught to suppress altruism. Eg., if a child saw a homeless person on the street, they were likely to offer to give them their candy, but the parent would yank them back and tell them to stay away from the dirty person.

Of course, if you are around children a lot, you know that we are naturally a combination of good and bad impulses.

Your brain might be hard-wired for altruism
UCLA neuroscience research suggests an avenue for treating the empathically challenged


After exploring the areas of the brain that fuel our empathetic impulses -- and temporarily disabling other regions that oppose those impulses -- two UCLA neuroscientists are coming down on the optimistic side of human nature.

"Our altruism may be more hard-wired than previously thought," said Leonardo Christov-Moore, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA's Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

The findings, reported in two recent studies, also point to a possible way to make people behave in less selfish and more altruistic ways, said senior author Marco Iacoboni, a UCLA psychiatry professor.


But in the others, the researchers dampened either the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which combine to block impulses of all varieties.

Christov-Moore said that if people really were inherently selfish, weakening those areas of the brain would free people to act more selfishly. In fact, though, study participants with disrupted activity in the brain's impulse control center were 50 percent more generous than members of the control group.

"Knocking out these areas appears to free your ability to feel for others," Christov-Moore said.

The researchers also found that who people chose to give their money to changed depending on which part of the prefrontal cortex was dampened. Participants whose dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was dampened, meanwhile, tended to be more generous overall. But those whose dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was dampened tended to be more generous to recipients with higher incomes -- people who appeared to be less in need of a handout.

"Normally, participants would have been expected to give according to need, but with that area of the brain dampened, they temporarily lost the ability for social judgments to affect their behavior," Christov-Moore said. "By dampening this area, we believe we laid bare how altruistic each study participant naturally was."


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