Is It In Our Nature To Be Selfish? Research Shows Surprising Results
As humans, we've always wondered about the true nature of man: Are we inherently good or evil? This is a conversation that doesn’t just happen in philosophy classrooms. Sometimes people discuss the topic casually, other times when they’re drunk enough to start contemplating the meaning of life.
Being kind and generous seems to be an attitude that is developed over time, especially if you’re in an environment where you deal with people who are constantly in need of help. It turns out, however. that altruism has something to do with our brain chemistry and it may not be an attitude thing.
Turns out we are actually hardwired to be kind and selfless.
In a study conducted by UCLA neuroscientists, it seems human nature is fundamentally good.
The researchers used 20 participants in the first study. For the first part of the experiment, the participants watched a video of a hand being poked with a pin and then were asked to imitate photographs of faces displaying different ranges of emotion like anger, happiness, sadness and excitement.
In the next activity, the participants played what economists and social scientists call the dictator game to study decision-making. Participants were given $10 for 24 rounds, during which they would have to decide whether to keep the money for themselves or share it with strangers. The possible recipients of the cash were made up of Los Angeles residents whose names were changed but whose actual income levels and ages were displayed.
In actuality, the more we are able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, the more likely we are to give to others.
The participants who had the strongest responses in the areas of the brain responsible for perceiving emotions, pain, and imitating others were more generous with the amounts that they shared with the strangers. These types of participants donated as much as 75 percent of their allowance.
Alternatively, the people who had the most activity at the prefrontal cortex of their brains were stingier, only giving away between $1 to $3.
Researchers called our susceptibility to share what we have as “prosocial resonance” or mirroring impulse.
"Prosocial resonance" is thought to be the biological cause behind our altruism.
Leonardo Christov-Moore, co-author of the study, says, "It's almost like these areas of the brain behave according to a neural Golden Rule . The more we tend to vicariously experience the states of others, the more we appear to be inclined to treat them as we would ourselves."
In a second study, the researchers wanted to find out how decision-making works when parts of the brain are temporarily weakened.
58 participants were involved in this noninvasive procedure, 20 of which were involved in their first study to act as the control group.
The part of the brain responsible for sight was restricted in the control group to test whether it would affect the participants' altruism. On the others, however, their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for planning and personality) was weakened to block different kinds of impulses.
Participants with a weakened prefrontal cortex were 50% more generous than members of the control group.
Christov-Moore explains that by weakening the prefrontal cortex, the participants were free to show compassion towards others. He says, “Participants would have been expected to give according to need, but with that area of the brain dampened, they temporarily lost the ability for social judgments to affect their behavior. By dampening this area, we believe we laid bare how altruistic each study participant naturally was. ”
Researchers hope the findings of both studies can help us find ways to make people behave less selfishly. How amazing would that be?
Senior author and UCLA professor of psychiatry, Marco Lacoboni, noted that this could lead us to find ways to make people less selfish and more altruistic. He said that, “This is potentially groundbreaking.”
And it’s true! Imagine achieving world peace through weakening certain areas of the brain in people who have selfish ideals. It might be weird or unnatural, but who cares if we’re all happy, right?