TED TALKS: Why some people are more altruistic than others

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TED TALKS: Why some people are more altruistic than others

Post by Luis Ferreira on Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:09 pm

Why do some people do selfless things, helping other people even at risk to their own well-being? Psychology researcher Abigail Marsh studies the motivations of people who do extremely altruistic acts, like donating a kidney to a complete stranger. Are their brains just different?

Abigail Marsh started to be interested bu psychology after an important moment of her life: when she was 19 years old, she had a car accident when trying to avoid a dog while driving, crashing instead... But someone decided to help her, saving her life. Since there, she devoted her work to understand human capacity to care for others. She asked herself: since human is by definition selfish, why do some people, like the stranger who rescued her, do selfless things, like helping other people at enormous risk and cost to themselves?
To answer this question, she started from the opposite end, with psychopaths, people in whom the desire to help other people is missing. Psychopathy sometimes also known as sociopathy is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits. With a group of colleagues of the national institute of Meantl Health, they conducted the first ever brain imaging research of psychopathic adolescents and from these results, they have find that psychopatics exhibit some characteristics that are different from normal people:

- First, although they're not generally insensitive to other people's emotions, they are insensitive to signs that other people are in distress. And in particular, they have difficulty recognizing fearful facial expressions like this one.

- The part of the brain that's the most important for recognizing fearful expressions is called the amygdala. And whereas healthy adults and children usually show big spikes in amygdala activity when they look at fearful expressions, psychopaths' amygdalas are underreactive to these expressions. Psychopaths' amygdalas are smaller than average by about 18 or 20 percent.

So the real question is, could extraordinary altruism, which is the opposite of psychopathy in terms of compassion and the desire to help other people, emerge from a brain that is also the opposite of psychopathy? A sort of antipsychopathic brain, better able to recognize other people's fear, an amygdala that's more reactive to this expression and maybe larger than average as well? So they also decided to test a population of truly altruists, people that they define as "people who have given one of their own kidneys to a complete stranger". They are better at recognizing other people's fear. They're literally better at detecting when somebody else is in distress. This may be in part because their amygdala is more reactive to these expressions. And finally, their amygdalas are larger than average as well, by about eight percent.

Also, she had the opportunite to ask a lot of altruistic kidney donors how it is that they manage to generate such a wide circle of compassion that they were willing to give a complete stranger their kidney. She said, "How is it that you're willing to do this thing when so many other people don't? You're one of fewer than 2,000 Americans who has ever given a kidney to a stranger. What is it that makes you so special?"
They say, "Nothing. There's nothing special about me. I'm just the same as everybody else." "Because it's not about me." Another said, "I'm not different. I'm not unique. Your study here is going to find out that I'm just the same as you."

For her, the best description for these behaviors are humility, which is that quality that in the words of St. Augustine "makes men as angels". It's because if there's no selfishness, nobody who is more or less worthy of your care and compassion than anybody else.
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Re: TED TALKS: Why some people are more altruistic than others

Post by Admin on Wed Nov 02, 2016 12:35 pm

Luis Ferreira wrote:
Why do some people do selfless things, helping other people even at risk to their own well-being? Psychology researcher Abigail Marsh studies the motivations of people who do extremely altruistic acts, like donating a kidney to a complete stranger. Are their brains just different?

Abigail Marsh started to be interested bu psychology after an important moment of her life: when she was 19 years old, she had a car accident when trying to avoid a dog while driving, crashing instead... But someone decided to help her, saving her life. Since there, she devoted her work to understand human capacity to care for others. She asked herself: since human is by definition selfish, why do some people, like the stranger who rescued her, do selfless things, like helping other people at enormous risk and cost to themselves?
To answer this question, she started from the opposite end, with psychopaths, people in whom the desire to help other people is missing. Psychopathy sometimes also known as sociopathy is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits. With a group of colleagues of the national institute of Meantl Health, they conducted the first ever brain imaging research of psychopathic adolescents and from these results, they have find that psychopatics exhibit some characteristics that are different from normal people:

- First, although they're not generally insensitive to other people's emotions, they are insensitive to signs that other people are in distress. And in particular, they have difficulty recognizing fearful facial expressions like this one.

- The part of the brain that's the most important for recognizing fearful expressions is called the amygdala. And whereas healthy adults and children usually show big spikes in amygdala activity when they look at fearful expressions, psychopaths' amygdalas are underreactive to these expressions. Psychopaths' amygdalas are smaller than average by about 18 or 20 percent.

So the real question is, could extraordinary altruism, which is the opposite of psychopathy in terms of compassion and the desire to help other people, emerge from a brain that is also the opposite of psychopathy? A sort of antipsychopathic brain, better able to recognize other people's fear, an amygdala that's more reactive to this expression and maybe larger than average as well? So they also decided to test a population of truly altruists, people that they define as "people who have given one of their own kidneys to a complete stranger". They are better at recognizing other people's fear. They're literally better at detecting when somebody else is in distress. This may be in part because their amygdala is more reactive to these expressions. And finally, their amygdalas are larger than average as well, by about eight percent.

Also, she had the opportunite to ask a lot of altruistic kidney donors how it is that they manage to generate such a wide circle of compassion that they were willing to give a complete stranger their kidney. She said, "How is it that you're willing to do this thing when so many other people don't? You're one of fewer than 2,000 Americans who has ever given a kidney to a stranger. What is it that makes you so special?"
They say, "Nothing. There's nothing special about me. I'm just the same as everybody else." "Because it's not about me." Another said, "I'm not different. I'm not unique. Your study here is going to find out that I'm just the same as you."

For her, the best description for these behaviors are humility, which is that quality that in the words of St. Augustine "makes men as angels". It's because if there's no selfishness, nobody who is more or less worthy of your care and compassion than anybody else.

That's interesting.

It seems that altruists and Psychopaths are just genetic defects, so I don't need to feel bad do I?

I wonder if there is a trend in one direction or the other or whether this is just an accepted deviance from a static norm.
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