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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Selfless in Seattle: Hard-wired for altruism

fMRI Research   (NIMH - Public Domain)
Looking out for number one" might be some people's mantra, but it turns out that humans are also hard-wired for generosity.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently reported on some intriguing results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  This fMRI procedure is used to measure brain activity.  Wikipedia explains that it does so by "detecting associated changes in blood flow."

Dr. Jordan Grafman, Director of Brain Injury Research at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, discovered that "parts of the midbrain lit up" on the fMRI scans when "people made the decision to donate to what they felt was a worthy organization…"  The midbrain sections that lit up are the very same ones that are linked to "cravings for food and sex."

Another part of the brain that becomes more active when altruism is displayed is the "subgenual area."  This "gumdrop-size region" which is "part of the frontal lobes" contains many oxytocin receptors.  Oxytocin is "a hormone that promotes social bonding."  Grafman's team is therefore theorizing that "altruism and social relationships are intimately connected…"  

Giving might therefore be "inherently rewarding."  It is not just a "sophisticated moral capacity," but is also a pleasurable activity in and of itself.


Copyright September 3, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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