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Finding the Brain’s Generosity Centre

Would you give money to this man?Scientists from Oxford University and UCL have identified part of our brain that helps us learn to be good to others. The discovery could help understanding of conditions like psychopathy where people’s behaviour is extremely antisocial. The researchers were led by Dr Patricia Lockwood, who explained: ‘Prosocial behaviours are social behaviours that benefit other people. They are a fundamental aspect of human interactions, essential for social bonding and cohesion, but very little is currently known about how and why people do things to help others.’ The scientists used a well-understood model of how people learn to maximise good outcomes for themselves and applied this model to understand how people learn to help others. While being scanned in a MRI machine, volunteers had to work out which symbols were more likely to give them, or someone else, a reward. ‘This the first time anyone has shown a particular brain process for learning prosocial behaviours – and a possible link from empathy to learning to help others. By understanding what the brain does when we do things for other people, and individual differences in this ability, we are better placed to understand what is going wrong in those whose psychological conditions are characterised by antisocial disregard for others.’

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