Higher proportion of gray matter linked to altruism

Higher proportion of gray matter linked to altruism

A study published in Neuron, by Ernst Fehr, Director of the Department of Economics, and his team from the University of Zurich, provides the first evidence that there is a connection between a specific neuroanatomical brain structure and human altruism.

Ernst Fehr is an Austrian neuroeconomist and according to IDEAS/REPEC, he is the second-most influential German-speaking economist.

Altruism, a term introduced by Auguste Comte implies a type of social behavior expressed through living selflessly for the sake of others. According to Anna Szuster, bringing up this term August Comte could not have predicted the staggering career of the concept in humanities.

Unlike any other species, humans engage in altruistic behaviors but there is vast individual heterogeneity in human altruism – ranging from complete selfishness to a strong altruism.

The Neuron study demonstrates that people who behave more altruistically than others have more gray matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobe. More precisely, the authors of this study found that the gray matter (GM) volume in the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ), an area that has been shown to be implicated in perspective-taking tasks, is “strongly associated with individuals’ behavioral altruism in situations of advantageous inequality”.

This is perhaps the first study showing a link between brain anatomy, brain activity and altruistic behavior. As the authors discuss, the study indicates a ‘biological link’ between inter- and within-individual behavioral variability. Thus, a “brain structure – in terms of GM volume in a particular brain region – accounts for inter-individual variability in subjects’ baseline”.

Previous research indicates that the area 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. Thus, altruism is maybe directly related to this trait.

In 2003 Nature magazine article Ernst Fehr discusses some fundamental aspects of the nature of human altruism.

Source: Neuron, 2012 Jul 12;75(1):73-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.021.
Read More: Neuron

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