Volume of grey matter may predict degree of altruism


What makes a person altruistic? Philosophers throughout the ages often pondered the question but failed to get concrete answers. New research from the University of Zurich in Switzerland shows that the answer may lie in our brains, or more accurately, that the volume of a small brain region can influences one’s predisposition for altruistic behaviour. The results, presented in the journal Neuron, indicate that individuals who behave more altruistically than others have more grey matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobe. This shows for the very first time that there is a connection between brain anatomy, brain activity and altruistic behaviour.

Contary to past studies that showed that social categories like gender, income or education cannot fully explain differences in altruistic behaviour, recent research in the area of neuroscience have demonstrated that differences in might be linked to differences in and abilities. Now, for the first time, a team of researchers from the University of Zurich, headed by Ernst Fehr, the director of the Department of Economics, demonstrates that there is a connection between and altruistic behaviour.

For their study, the researchers asked volunteers to divide money between themselves and someone else who was anonymous. The participants always had the option of sacrificing a certain portion of the money for the benefit of the other person. The monetary sacrifice was considered to be altruistic because it helped someone else at one’s own expense. The researchers found major differences in this respect: some participants were almost never willing to sacrifice money to benefit others while others behaved very altruistically.

Previous studies showed that the place where the parietal and temporal lobes meet is linked to the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand their thoughts and feelings, an ability the researchers considered closely related to altruism.

Written By: MedicalXpress
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  1. This finding certainly brings to light the greedy behavior and policies promoted by the GOP. They must be totally void of all grey matter. Greed is all encompassing for such a brain, or lack thereof.

  2. “Philosophers throughout the ages often pondered the question but failed to get concrete answers.”

    First line has me laughing

  3. D’oh! I thought the yellow blob was Homer Simpson’s brain. jk

    A very altruistic fellow, not.

  4. Of course, the research paper, probably paid for (at least in part) by our tax dollars/pounds, is behind a stupid paywall. Elsevier is evil.

    It is not quite the outrage that most religious fundie stuff is, but it is still an outrage…check this out…

    Whitfield, J. ‘Elsevier Boycott Gathers Pace’. Nature. (9 Feb. 2012). doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10010 at <http: elsevier-boycott-gathers-pace-1.10010=”” news=”” http://www.nature.com=“”> accessed on: 27 Apr. 2012


  5. Altruistic behaviour is really taking the long haul into consideration.  
    Do you pollute? no.  You we keep doing that we will soon no longer have a decent stream.
    Do we attack a neighbour and steal their oil?  No. They will find ways to get revenge for centuries.
    Do you toss all the old folks on government assistance out on the street? No.  You may well be one some day.  City life will disgusting with sick elderly people pawing through the garbage cans.
    Do we built a bitumen pipeline and tanker convoy and rake in the dollars from China?  No.  Inevitably here will be a spill and we have no technology to deal with it.  We will destroy our coastline and all the recreational and fishing on it.

    There is a peculiar “religious” experience I call cosmic consciousness where the universe seems to be one giant whole.  You even have the illusion of being able to feel touch on other people’s bodies.  It is highly pleasant and seems equally valid, if not more valid, than our usual way of seeing things.  I think this experience is much more common than people imagine, and much easier to induce than people imagine.
    I think undue reverence gets in the way of experiencing it.

    If you have experienced this a number of times, you can’t help but in ordinary consciousness do a sort of calculation like this.  X desperately wants x to happen. The rest of us don’t care that much one way or the other.  We can greatly increase the total happiness of our little band by conspiring to see he gets it. It is as if the boundaries between bodies on who matters become leaky.  Normally they leak only between kin. If you want something and X wants it too, it depends on who needs it most, for whom you lobby to get it.

  6. It is the greed of banks and big business that destroys the economy, not the government. Commerce is all about trading goods and services and it is the greed of business that control these goods and services and rape the public of what little they have. No one will return to slave labor in this country and if the government does not rein in the greed of banks and big industry the economy will fail and we will return to civil war and anarchy.

  7. Altruism is experienced by most species, even plants, and though it is more prevalent in those closely related and of the same species, it has also been observed through interspecies relationships. It assists in the survival of the species to the point that if altruism did not exist, no species could survive.

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