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Altruism genom att gynna kollektivet får oss att må bra

It's an enduring mystery that taunts neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists. If the human brain evolved to maximize its owner's survival, why are we motivated to help others, even when it incurs some personal cost?

One pat answer is that when we help someone in need, we expect him to return the favor. But some kinds of altruism aren't easy to explain away as mere reciprocity. For example, tax incentives aside, donating money to a charitable cause is unlikely to bring the donor any foreseeable return – except perhaps the "joy of giving."

Two new studies shed light on why it feels good to give by examining how and where altruism originates in the brain.

In both studies, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to visualize the brain's activity while people played computer games that enabled them to earn money for real-life charities. The researchers also tied the results of these imaging experiments to the subjects' everyday behaviors, by asking them about their involvement in charitable work, or about their general capacity for altruism. Both studies conclude that areas of the cerebral cortex – the outer layer of the brain that serves highly evolved cognitive functions, such as abstract thought and self-awareness – are key mediators of altruistic behavior.


It turned out that a similar pattern of brain activity was seen when subjects chose either to donate or take a payoff. Both types of decisions were associated with heightened activity in parts of the midbrain, a region deep in the brain that is known to be involved in primal desires (such as food and sex) and the satisfaction of them. This result provides the first evidence that the "joy of giving" has an anatomical basis in the brain – surprisingly, one that is shared with selfish longings and rewards.

"Our findings are consistent with a theory that some aspects of altruism arose out of a system for perceiving the intentions and goals of others," said Dr. Huettel, a neuroscientist and NINDS grantee at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. "To be altruistic, you need to see that the people you're helping have goals, and that your actions will have consequences for them," he said. 1

Altruism uppmanar individen att gynna kollektivet genom att aktivera delar av vår hjärna som får oss att må bra. Därmed är altruism inte en absolut positiv konstant, utan en neurologisk företeelse som både kan ha positiva effekter och manipuleras till orealistiska handlingar.

1 ScienceDaily, "Inner Workings Of The Magnanimous Mind: Why It Feels Good To Be Altruistic"