Individual differences in altruism explained by brain region involved in empathy
The junction (yellow) between the parietal and the temporal lobes, in which the relative proportion of gray matter is significantly positively correlated with the propensity for altruistic behavior. Credit: University of Zurich
What can explain extreme differences in altruism among individuals, from Ebenezer Scrooge to Mother Teresa? It may all come down to variation in the size and activity of a brain region involved in appreciating others' perspectives, according to a study published in the July 12th issue of the journal Neuron. The findings also provide a neural explanation for why altruistic tendencies remain stable over time.
"This is the first study to link both brain anatomy and brain activation to human altruism," says senior study author Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich. "The findings suggest that the development of altruism through appropriate training or social practices might occur through changes in the brain structure and the neural activations that we identified in our study."
Individuals who excel at understanding others' intents and beliefs are more altruistic than those who struggle at this task. The ability to understand others' perspectives has previously been associated with activity in a brain region known as the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Based on these past findings, Fehr and his team reasoned that the size and activation of the TPJ would relate to individual differences in altruism.
In the new study, subjects underwent a brain imaging scan and played a game in which they had to decide how to split money between themselves and anonymous partners. Subjects who made more generous decisions had a larger TPJ in the right hemisphere of the brain compared with subjects who made stingy decisions.
Moreover, activity in the TPJ reflected each subject's specific cutoff value for the maximal cost the subject was willing to endure to increase the partner's payoff. Activity in the TPJ was higher during hard decisionswhen the personal cost of an altruistic act was just below the cutoff valuethan during easy decisions associated with a very low or very high cost.
"The structure of the TPJ strongly predicts an individual's setpoint for altruistic behavior, while activity in this brain region predicts an individual's acceptable cost for altruistic actions," says study author Yosuke Morishima of the University of Zurich. "We have elucidated the relationship between the hardware and software of human altruistic behavior."
More information: Morishima et al.: "Linking Brain Structure and Activation in Temporoparietal Junction to Explain the Neurobiology of Human Altruism." Neuron DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.021
Journal reference: Neuron
Provided by Cell Press
- Brain center for social choices discovered in a poker study Jul 05, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Neurorobotics reveals brain mechanisms of self-consciousness Apr 27, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Natural selection makes some relatives selfish, others altruistic Mar 02, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Moral judgments can be altered by disrupting specific brain region Mar 29, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- New finding offers neurological support for Adam Smith's 'theories of morality' Apr 09, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
Marie Curie's leukemia
May 13, 2013 Does anyone know what might be the cause of Marie Curie's cancer
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
Neuroscience May 18, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
The neural machinery underlying our olfactory sense continues to be an enigma for neuroscience. A recent review in Neuron seeks to expand traditional ideas about how neurons in the olfactory bulb might encode information about ...
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 4 / 5 (1) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—What if the quality of your work depends more on your focus on the piano keys or canvas or laptop than your musical or painting or computing skills? If target users can be convinced, they ...
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Neurological disorders can have a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and their families.
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
If you're a left-brain thinker, chances are you use your right hand to hold your cell phone up to your right ear, according to a newly published study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Neuroscience May 16, 2013 | 2 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Regular consumption of coffee is associated with a reduced risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an autoimmune liver disease, Mayo Clinic research shows. The findings were being presented at the Digestive Disease ...
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Patients with treatment-resistant major depression saw dramatic improvement in their illness after treatment with ketamine, an anesthetic, according to the largest ketamine clinical trial to-date led by researchers from the ...
7 hours ago | 4.5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) explores new methods for managing digestive health through diet and lifestyle.
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
The use of a smartphone application significantly improves patients' preparation for a colonoscopy, according to new research presented today at Digestive Disease Week (DDW). The preparation process, which begins days in ...
6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
There are significant cost and risk factors associated with two procedures commonly used to diagnose or treat gastrointestinal problems, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW).
6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
An increasing number of U.S. children are experiencing gastrointestinal issues that require interventions to resolve, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW).
21 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |