Nav: Home

Neural connectivity dictates altruistic behavior

March 03, 2016

A new study suggests that the specific alignment of neural networks in the brain dictates whether a person's altruism was motivated by selfish or altruistic behavior. In psychology, motives are considered to be drivers of human behavior but can be difficult to discern; simply observing a person's actions is not sufficient to do so. A person may behave altruistically, for example, because they are moved by someone's sufferings (empathy), or they may behave altruistically because they feel obliged to return a favor (reciprocity). Some researchers have suggested that identifying neural networks in the brain associated with certain motives could provide an intriguing window into why a person behaves a certain way. Therefore, Grit Hein and colleagues sought to identify structural differences in the brains of people under two different motive scenarios. They designed an experiment where a participant interacted with two partners. In one experimental group, a participant observed a partner receiving painful shocks, thereby eliciting an empathic response in the participant (empathy group). In the other group, a participant observed partner sacrificing money to save the participant from receiving a shock, thereby eliciting a desire in the participant to return the kind behavior (reciprocity group). In both groups, the participant was also paired with a second partner who served as a control and did nothing for them. Following this part of the experiment, all participants conducted a money allocation task. As expected, participants sacrificed more money to the empathy or reciprocity partner than to the control partner. Critically, the altruism did not differ between the groups, so that the hidden motive of the participant could not be accurately inferred from behavior alone. The researchers studied the participants' brain structures, however, finding distinct patterns. Using a classification algorithm, individual patterns of brain connectivity could be used to detect the specific motive - empathy or reciprocity - for altruism. For example, empathy-driven altruism showed slightly negative connectivity between the anterior insula (AI) and ventral striatum (VS), while reciprocity-driven altruism showed strong positive connectivity between these regions. The volunteers were then partitioned into two groups depending on their level of altruism. "Selfish" individuals could be characterized by low or negative connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and AI, whereas predominantly prosocial individuals displayed positive connectivity between these regions. Inducing empathy-driven altruism in the selfish group resulted in connectivity more similar to the prosocial individuals. A Perspective by Sebastian Gluth and Laura Fontanesi provides more context.
-end-


American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Brain Articles:

Study describes changes to structural brain networks after radiotherapy for brain tumors
Researchers compared the thickness of brain cortex in patients with brain tumors before and after radiation therapy was applied and found significant dose-dependent changes in the structural properties of cortical neural networks, at both the local and global level.
Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks
Using a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
New brain mapping tool produces higher resolution data during brain surgery
Researchers have developed a new device to map the brain during surgery and distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues.
Newborn baby brain scans will help scientists track brain development
Scientists have today published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies' brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.
New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brain scientists at TU Dresden examine brain networks during short-term task learning
'Practice makes perfect' is a common saying. We all have experienced that the initially effortful implementation of novel tasks is becoming rapidly easier and more fluent after only a few repetitions.
Balancing time & space in the brain: New model holds promise for predicting brain dynamics
A team of scientists has extended the balanced network model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.
New view of brain development: Striking differences between adult and newborn mouse brain
Spikes in neuronal activity in young mice do not spur corresponding boosts in blood flow -- a discovery that stands in stark contrast to the adult mouse brain.
Map of teenage brain provides evidence of link between antisocial behavior and brain development
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behavior problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behavior stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy.

Related Brain Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".