August 12, 2012
Brain Anatomy Predicts Altruistic Behavior

Altruistic? You probably have more grey matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobe.

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.

Every time I read a report about connections between neuroanatomy and human behavior I see it in terms of my great puzzles about the future: what choices will humans make when they gain the ability to choose the genes of their offspring? Unless robots take over those choices will determine the future of the human species (or the multiple species our descendants will become).

Think of every cognitive attribute a human can have. Patience, short term memory, excitability, neuroticism, calmness, focused, easily bored, fast at math, able to picture and rotate complex 3-D models, altruism, easily angered. To the extent that each of these can be altered by genetic variants (and I'm quite sure they all can) once it becomes possible to choose genetic variants for offspring will humans in the future make their kids more or less altruistic? More or less calm? More introverted or more extroverted? Dopamine genetic variants for harder working or slacking? How will post-humans differ from humans? Will they still like humans? Be bored by humans? Will they have enough empathy to even get along with each other? Will they diverge into mutually hostile species?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 August 12 08:59 AM  Brain Altruism

georgehants said at August 12, 2012 9:20 AM:

My god, when are scientists going to stop talking about altruism as if it is just a disease.
Start answering how these guys can achieve the miraculous feats that they do.
Hiding reality is not science, but irratinal.

Sergey Kurdakov said at August 12, 2012 6:28 PM:

I think this link (research on IQ and patience, ability to communicate ) is relevant.
as IQ is most desirable feature, and most probably will be first to be affected, then, at least some of good traits will be automatically selected ( by just peer pressure of high IQ individuals and their preferences, but then a situation might change, but why?)

mbabbitt said at August 13, 2012 11:20 AM:

Eugenics talk is always dangerous, no matter how smart people think they are.

Gromky said at August 13, 2012 11:39 AM:

To some, altruism is kind of disease - it puts them at dis-ease. It's a pesky phenomenon that cannot be satisfactorily explained by evolution. Especially the type that helps a perfect stranger at great personal risk with no expectation of reward.

But the question is, is this brain anatomy thing cause or effect?

Tedd said at August 13, 2012 11:47 AM:

Interesting idea about multiple species descending from homo sapiens. I don't think I ever thought about that before but I suppose that, given enough time or the right technology, it's inevitable.

I wonder if one of the first divisions might be "naturalists" and "technologists" (my own terms) -- those who choose to reproduce without pre-determining traits of their offspring by any new method versus those who choose to use new technologies to pre-determine traits.

PacRim Jim said at August 13, 2012 11:51 AM:

If "altruism" is defined as behavior that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to one but that benefits another, I question the very concept of altruism, since subtle benefits result from any ostensibly altruistic act.
There's always a payoff. I act, therefore I benefit.

TFG said at August 13, 2012 2:08 PM:

"There's always a payoff. I act, therefore I benefit."

No, you act because you choose to. That's the difference. The big difference between the "altruist" that forces other people to give money to "help" others, and the person who risks life and limb to save others from certain doom, is that the one who takes his life into his own hands does it because he chooses to. He might not "want" to, but he's choosing to. He might not get a damn thing out of it but self-respect, knowing that he did what he knows is right.

The payoff is that you did what you wanted to. You did something hair-brained, could have gotten you killed, and all for someone that you don't even know or care about on a personal level. But you did it, and you wanted to do it. Otherwise, you wouldn't have done it.

mabirch said at August 13, 2012 3:26 PM:

Does anyone else here find it contradictory that this discussion is attributing human behaviors which involve choice to solely physical antecedents which are not a choice so that someone with some sort of involuntary brain structure will take some sort of action to manipulate the brain structure in someone else so that their choices will be determined by that brain structure?

PacRim Jim said at August 13, 2012 6:56 PM:

"you act because you choose to"
Determinists argue that human choice does not exist.

ASPRIANT said at August 14, 2012 11:34 AM:

Accept the mystery

Insecure Sinecure said at August 17, 2012 4:45 PM:

Why so many uses of 'will' ? What kind of crystal ball are you using?


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