Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neural responses indicate our willingness to help

Date:
October 7, 2010
Source:
University of Zurich
Summary:
Witnessing a person from our own group or an outsider suffer pain causes neural responses in two very different regions of the brain. And, the specific region activated reveals whether or not we will help the person in need. Researchers studied the brain responses of soccer fans and now have neurobiological evidence for why we are most willing to help members of our own group.

Witnessing a person from our own group or an outsider suffer pain causes neural responses in two very different regions of the brain. And, the specific region activated reveals whether or not we will help the person in need. Researchers at the University of Zurich studied the brain responses of soccer fans and now have neurobiological evidence for why we are most willing to help members of our own group.

Our reactions to shocking news clips on television demonstrate that human beings can remain remarkably cool in the face of other peoples' suffering. And yet, we are also ready to sacrifice ourselves for others, even if no tangible reward awaits. Why such a difference? Social psychology has proven that our propensity to help is modulated by social factors. Little, however, was known about the underlying neural processes and how they are influenced by group affiliation. Now, research in neuroscience at the University of Zurich has documented that the brain regions activated when witnessing people suffer vary according to whether those suffering are perceived as group members. "And most importantly, the differences in neural responses indicate whether the observer will help the suffering person later on," as neuroscientist Grit Hein confirmed.

Grit Hein, Tania Singer (now director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences) and social psychologist C. Daniel Batson (University of Kansas, USA) measured the neural responses of soccer fans: Test subjects watched either a member of their own group (ingroup) or someone from a rival team (outgroup) be subjected to painful shocks through electrodes attached to the back of their hands. The test subjects could then decide whether or not to help an ingroup or outgroup member by receiving a portion of the pain themselves. Helping had a high cost as it was inherently linked to personal physical pain. Test persons also had the option to simply watch the other person receive the shocks or to distract themselves from the unpleasant scene by watching a soccer video.

The scientific journal Neuron has published the revealing results of the study: Should a person from an ingroup suffer pain, brain regions associated with empathy for others' pain are activated. A greater degree of activation in these regions correlates with a greater willingness to help. If, however, test subjects saw a member of an outgroup subjected to pain, brain regions motivated by reward were activated. A high degree of reward-related activation corresponds to a negative perception of the person belonging to the rival team, and the willingness to help decreases as brain activation rises.

Measuring neural responses also proves to be a more accurate prediction tool than questionnaires when trying to determine how willing people are to help people outside of their group affiliation. "After all, who is going to admit they'd help a friend in need but let an outsider suffer?" observed Grit Hein.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Zurich. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Grit Hein, Giorgia Silani, Kerstin Preuschoff, C. Daniel Batson, Tania Singer. Neural Responses to Ingroup and Outgroup Members' Suffering Predict Individual Differences in Costly Helping. Neuron, 2010; 68 (1): 149 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.09.003

Cite This Page:

University of Zurich. "Neural responses indicate our willingness to help." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101007123113.htm>.
University of Zurich. (2010, October 7). Neural responses indicate our willingness to help. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101007123113.htm
University of Zurich. "Neural responses indicate our willingness to help." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101007123113.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins