(ORDO NEWS) — Many prosocial activities require effort. However, the neural mechanisms underlying how people decide whether to make an effort to help others have been poorly understood.
A team of scientists from the universities of Birmingen and Oxford (UK) has identified a region of the brain that is responsible for altruistic behavior – selfless motives and actions of a person for the benefit of others.
“Pro-social” behavior – from helping a stranger on the street to volunteering – is vital to maintaining physical and mental health.
While much previous work has explored the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying the decision to donate, for example, to charity, they have overlooked a key component of altruism effort.
In addition, it is not known how the brain represents the effort of prosocial action and whether it differs from actions that benefit ourselves.
Scientists conducted an experiment involving 12 men and 26 women aged 18-35, who were recruited through a mailing list among students, online ads and social networks.
All of them were right-handed and did not have mental disorders. A week before the experiment, volunteers filled out questionnaires to assess the level of empathy.
Then they went to the lab, where they were each asked to make a decision in three and a half seconds: not to make an effort, that is, to rest, and receive a small monetary reward, or to work hard and earn more money, but this would require effort.
If the participant decided on the second option, he had to squeeze a device that measures grip strength for several seconds.
The goal was to reach a certain threshold – a yellow horizontal bar on the screen – and receive points that can be converted into money. The reward went either to the subject himself or to another person (this was notified in advance).
In parallel, the volunteers underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging, which made it possible to find out which areas of the brain were activated when people chose to “work” or “vacate”, receiving money for themselves or someone else.
As a result, the researchers found that when making the decision to make an effort and help another person, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was activated – the frontal part of the cingulate cortex, similar to the “collar” around the corpus callosum.
It was not involved when the participant preferred to make the effort for their own benefit.
“ACCg processes information that is relevant to making an effort when it is pro-social, but not when it is self-beneficial. The representation of efforts in this area turned out to be stronger in people who rated their level of empathy as high, ”the scientists said.
In the future, they plan to study how things are with altruistic behavior in people who have experienced a brain stroke or other similar injury.
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