Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are

Date:
July 11, 2012
Source:
University of Zurich
Summary:
The volume of a small brain region influences one's predisposition for altruistic behavior. Researchers have shown that people who behave more altruistically than others have more gray matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobe, thus showing for the first time that there is a connection between brain anatomy, brain activity and altruistic behavior.

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

The volume of a small brain region influences one's predisposition for altruistic behavior. Researchers from the University of Zurich show that people who behave more altruistically than others have more gray matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobe, thus showing for the first time that there is a connection between brain anatomy, brain activity and altruistic behavior.

Why are some people very selfish and others very altruistic? Previous studies indicated that social categories like gender, income or education can hardly explain differences in altruistic behavior. Recent neuroscience studies have demonstrated that differences in brain structure might be linked to differences in personality traits and abilities. Now, for the first time, a team of researchers from the University of Zurich headed by Ernst Fehr, Director of the Department of Economics, show that there is a connection between brain anatomy and altruistic behavior.

To investigate whether differences in altruistic behavior have neurobiological causes, volunteers were to divide money between themselves and an anonymous other person. The participants always had the option of sacrificing a certain portion of the money for the benefit of the other person. Such a sacrifice can be deemed altruistic because it helps 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.

More gray matter

The aim of the study, however, was to find out why there are such differences. Previous studies had shown that a certain region of the brain -- 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. Altruism is probably closely related to this ability. Consequently, the researchers suspected that individual differences in this part of the brain might be linked to differences in altruistic behavior. And, according to Yosuke Morishima, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, they were right: "People who behaved more altruistically also had a higher proportion of gray matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobes."

Differences in brain activity

The participants in the study also displayed marked differences in brain activity while they were deciding how to split up the money. In the case of selfish people, the small brain region behind the ear is already active when the cost of altruistic behavior is very low. In altruistic people, however, this brain region only becomes more active when the cost is very high. The brain region is thus activated especially strongly when people reach the limits of their willingness to behave altruistically. The reason, the researchers suspect, is that this is when there is the greatest need to overcome man's natural self-centeredness by activating this brain region.

Ernst Fehr adds: "These are exciting results for us. However, one should not jump to the conclusion that altruistic behavior is determined by biological factors alone." The volume of gray matter is also influenced by social processes. According to Fehr, the findings therefore raise the fascinating question as to whether it is possible to promote the development of brain regions that are important for altruistic behavior through appropriate training or social norms.


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. Yosuke Morishima, Daniel Schunk, Adrian Bruhin, Christian C. Ruff, Ernst Fehr. Linking Brain Structure and Activation in Temporoparietal Junction to Explain the Neurobiology of Human Altruism. Neuron, 12 July 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.021

Cite This Page:

University of Zurich. "The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120711123005.htm>.
University of Zurich. (2012, July 11). The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120711123005.htm
University of Zurich. "The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120711123005.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research. Video provided by Newsy
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:

More Coverage


Individual Differences in Altruism Explained by Brain Region Involved in Empathy

July 11, 2012 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 ... read more
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