Biomedical Engineering Blog

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Previous in Blog: Upload Your Mind to a Robot and 'Live' Forever   Next in Blog: Five Design Flaws in Humans
Close
Close
Close
8 comments

Is Altruism Predetermined?

Posted March 26, 2016 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

A new study by researchers at UCLA looked at altruism in the human brain. The researchers, Leonardo Christov-Moore and Marco Iacoboni, found that altruism may be more hard-wired in the brain than previously believed.

The first study had 20 participants. The participants were shown a video of a hand being poked with a pin and then they were asked to imitate photographs of faces displaying a range of emotions - happy, sad, angry, and excited. The researchers scanned participants' brains with functional MRIs, noting which areas showed activity.

The MRIs showed activity in the amygdala, associated with experiencing emotion and pain as well as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating behavior and controlling impulses. Image credit

In the second activity of this study participants played the dictator game. This game is used to study decision-making: each participant is given a certain amount of money to keep for themselves or share with a stranger. After each participant had completed the game, researchers compared their payouts with brain scans.

Participants who showed the strongest responses in the areas of the brain associated with perceiving pain and emotion were the most generous, giving away an average of 75 percent of their money. "Researchers referred to this tendency as 'prosocial resonance' or mirroring impulse, and they believe the impulse to be a primary driving force behind altruism."

The second study had 58 participants. Each was subjected to 40 seconds of a noninvasive procedure which temporarily dampens activity in specific regions of the brain. Twenty participants were in the control group and others had either the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex dampened. Combined, this blocks impulses of all varieties.

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

This demonstrates that lessening the activity of these areas frees an individual's ability to feel for others.

Another interesting note was that the recipient of the generosity changed based on which part of the brain was altered. Participants whose dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was dampened were more generous overall but those whose dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was dampened tended to give more money to recipients with higher incomes - people who appeared to be less in need of a handout.

This may be because with that area of the brain dampened, participants temporarily lost the ability for social judgments to affect their behavior.

The findings of both studies suggest potential avenues for increasing empathy, which is especially critical in treating people who have experienced desensitizing situations like prison or war.

University of California - Los Angeles. "Your brain might be hard-wired for altruism: Neuroscience research suggests an avenue for treating the empathically challenged." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160318102101.htm>.

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Guru

Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: About 4000 miles from the center of the earth (+/-100 mi)
Posts: 9047
Good Answers: 1031
#1

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/26/2016 10:26 AM

Most toddlers seem quite willing to share what they have. It might be half eaten, but the heart's in the right place.

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#2

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/26/2016 5:54 PM

At risk of sounding cynical, does 'altruism' exist ? If I do some good deed, I usually benefit from a feeling that I've done good. If nobody on the planet knows of it, whatever action does provide a reward in terms of how I feel. That could be termed 'smug', but in general we transact with other people, and that very word 'transact' is what leaves me uncertain.

People do generally understand the common meaning of altruism, I'm just trying to point out that there is maybe a semantic difficulty. That renders it (at the least) difficult to study and analyse it. The info provided seems to be more along the lines of 'empathy'.

No intent to disrupt an interesting post, I'm just seeking clarification. The post starts with altruism and ends with empathy. Are the two things distinct ? I suspect so, but can't think of any examples.

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: About 4000 miles from the center of the earth (+/-100 mi)
Posts: 9047
Good Answers: 1031
#3
In reply to #2

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/26/2016 6:58 PM

I think what they were trying to say (if I read it correctly) was that the two are connected, that the same area of the brain is active in both cases, altruism and empathy. I can see that you might be inclined to help someone (altruism) if you could imagine yourself in their shoes (empathy).

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#5
In reply to #3

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/27/2016 6:44 AM

No, I wouldn't .

As a rough analogy, somebody once described empathy to me thus; A person is stuck down a well. The sympathetcic person will jump down and join them, the empathetic person will go get a ladder to help them out. I'm finding it hard to figure what the altruiistic person would do in that scenario - leave some money so that the next passer by can get a ladder ? I'm sounding very calous, but the semantics of it all erscape me.

As Andy says, it's a very interesting post. I also agree with you that altruism/empathy are very closely linked. I'm scratching my head trying to think what the subtle difference is. Empathy carries a sense of understanding, backed up by practical help. Altruism is good deeds, though I ponder if it's possible to do such without some small degree of self reward. Even an anonymous donation to a charity carries a payback. I'd not dismiss the act for a second, but the verbage sounds wrong. Many people don't like what they perceive as charity, so if it's clearer that both parties benefit then it's surely better for all.

That's as muddled as I always put things, but hopefully you all see the point I'm trying to make. If anybody has doubts, give me an example of altruism and I'll explain why the act has mutual benefits.

It's a tad naughty of me to argue this point, but I only bother with CR4 Bloggers who I hold in high regard. My question, is it semantics or is altruism/empathy specifically different.

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Commentator

Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 80
Good Answers: 6
#6
In reply to #5

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/27/2016 1:42 PM

Using a funeral as an example;

; empathy is when i participate in the feelings or ideas of another. Example; i share the same feelings of loss as another.

;sympathy is when i feel compassion or pity for another person's suffering or loss.

; altruism is the action i take when i feel either empathy or sympathy for another to try and help them. Could be as simple as offering a Kleenex to dry their tears, or get them something to drink or just sit with them and be a good listener.

Not very scientific I suppose, but it works for me

Peace.

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: at the beach in Florida
Posts: 30962
Good Answers: 1727
#7
In reply to #5

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/27/2016 7:12 PM

Empathy is the spiritual, altruism is action... Mother Teresa was both...

__________________
Break a sweat everyday doing something you enjoy
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#8
In reply to #7

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/28/2016 4:19 PM

Thanks to you and grandpa. I'm still pondering, but you have both steered me in the right direction. I thank you both.

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member Safety - ESD - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 50.390866N, 8.884827E
Posts: 17996
Good Answers: 200
#4

Re: Is Altruism Predetermined?

03/27/2016 5:47 AM

As a rank amateur, I have interested myself in both sociopaths and psychopaths.....It is interesting to see how Altruism is also affected.....

Many thanks to Chelsey H who posted this....

__________________
"What others say about you reveals more about them, than it does you." Anon.
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 8 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Andy Germany (1); grandpaw (1); Kris (3); Rixter (2); SolarEagle (1)

Previous in Blog: Upload Your Mind to a Robot and 'Live' Forever   Next in Blog: Five Design Flaws in Humans

Advertisement