People may not perform selfless acts just for an emotional reward, a new brain study suggests.via CBC News via DailyGood
Instead, they may do good because they're acutely tuned into the needs and actions of others.
Heuttel's team had a group of healthy young adults either engage in a computer game or watch as the computer played the game itself. In some sessions, the computer and participants played for personal gain, while in other sessions, they played for charity.
The researchers used high-tech functional MRI (fMRI) to observe "hot spots" of activity in the participants' brains as they engaged in these tasks.
"We went into this experiment with the idea that altruism was really a function of the brain's reward systems - altruistic people would simply find it more rewarding," he said.
But instead, a whole other brain region, called the posterior superior temporal cortex (pSTC), kicked into high gear as altruism levels rose.
The pSTC is located near the back of the brain and is not focused on reward. Instead, it focuses on perceiving others' intentions and actions, Huettel said.
"The general function of this region is that it seems to be associated with perceiving, usually visually, stimuli that seems meaningful to us - for example, something in the environment that might move an object from place to place," he explained.