Altruism Influenced by Amount of Gray Matter in Brain

More Gray Matter in Brain = More Altruism?

From ScienceDaily (July 11, 2012) — The amount of activity in a tiny region of the brain is directly related to your propensity for altruistic behavior. University of Zurich researchers have demonstrated that people with a higher degree of altruism than others have more gray matter at the intersection between the temporal and parietal lobe, providing initial proof of a connection between brain anatomy, brain activity and altruistic behavior.

http://images.sciencedaily.com/2012/07/120711123005-large.jpg

The intersection (yellow) between the parietal and temporal lobes,

in which the relative proportion of gray matter is significantly

positively correlated with the propensity for altruistic behavior.

(Credit: University of Zurich)

Positive psychology
has often asked ‘Why do some people tend to be more selfish while others are more altruistic?’

Previous studies indicated that social categories like gender, income or education fail to explain individual differences in altruistic behavior. Recent neuroscience studies have shown that variations in brain structure seem to be linked to differences in personality traits and abilities.

Breaking new scientific ground,  a group of researchers from Zurich University, led by Ernst Fehr, Director of the Department of Economics, show that there is a connection between the anatomy of the brain and our degree of altruism.

To investigate whether differences in altruistic behavior have neurobiological causes, volunteers were to divide money between themselves and an anonymous other person. The participants always had the option of sacrificing a certain portion of the money for the benefit of the other person. Such a sacrifice can be deemed altruistic because it helps someone else at one’s own expense. The researchers found major differences in this respect: Some participants were almost never willing to sacrifice money to benefit others while others behaved very altruistically.

Interestingly, altruistic behavior has been shown in multiple studies to reduce depression as well as increase subjective well-being, degree of happiness, and life satisfaction. 

And keep in mind, that this does not mean that altruistic behavior is predetermined or 100% biologically determined. The human brain is highly plastic and continues to grow and change throughout the lifespan. It is my belief, based on studying the brain for 20 years, that altruism is a learnable skill. It simply requires awareness, practice and repetition.

More gray matter

The aim of the study, however, was to find out why there are such differences. Previous studies had shown that a certain region of the brain — the place 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 (i.e., sympathy and empathy). Altruism is probably closely related to this ability. Consequently, the researchers suspected that individual differences in this part of the brain might be linked to differences in altruistic behavior. And, according to Yosuke Morishima, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, they were right: “People who behaved more altruistically also had a higher proportion of gray matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobes.”

Individual Differences in brain activity

The participants in the study also displayed marked differences in brain activity while they were deciding how to split up the money. In the case of selfish people, the small brain region behind the ear is already active when the cost of altruistic behavior is very low. In altruistic people, however, this brain region only becomes more active when the cost is very high. The brain region is thus activated especially strongly when people reach the limits of their willingness to behave altruistically. The reason, the researchers suspect, is that this is when there is the greatest need to overcome man’s natural self-centeredness by activating this brain region.

Ernst Fehr adds: “These are exciting results for us. However, one should not jump to the conclusion that altruistic behavior is determined by biological factors alone.” The volume of gray matter is also influenced by social processes. According to Fehr, the findings therefore raise the fascinating question as to whether it is possible to promote the development of brain regions that are important for altruistic behavior through appropriate training or social norms.
To life, love and altruism,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

For your FREE PDF copy of my award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, visit GuideToSelf.com.

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Zurich.

Journal Reference:

Yosuke Morishima, Daniel Schunk, Adrian Bruhin, Christian C. Ruff, Ernst Fehr. Linking Brain Structure and Activation in Temporoparietal Junction to Explain the Neurobiology of Human Altruism. Neuron, 12 July 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.021

University of Zurich (2012, July 11). The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 12, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120711123005.htm

Toddlers Happier Giving Than Receiving – Not So Selfish After All?

Giving Makes Young Children Happy

ScienceDaily (June 19, 2012) — If it is indeed nobler to give than to receive, it may also make you happier — even if you’re a toddler, according to a new study co-authored by three psychologists at the University of British Columbia.

The study, published in PLoS One, an on-line journal from the Public Library of Science, finds that toddlers under the age of two are happier when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves. Furthermore, children are happier when they give their own treats away than when they give an identical treat that doesn’t belong to them.

These findings support recent research showing that adults feel good when they help others and may help explain why people act pro-socially, even when doing so involves personal cost. This is the first study to show that giving to others makes young children happy.

“People tend to assume that toddlers are naturally selfish,” said Dr. Lara Aknin, who co-authored the study with UBC colleagues Profs. Kiley Hamlin and Elizabeth Dunn. “These findings show that children are actually happier giving than receiving.”


During the study, each toddler received some treats, such as Goldfish crackers. A few minutes later, the toddler was asked to give one of these treats away to a puppet. In addition, the experimenter provided an extra treat and asked the child to give this to the puppet. The children’s reactions were videotaped and later rated for happiness on a seven-point scale.

When toddlers shared their own treat with a puppet, they displayed greater happiness than when giving a treat provided by the researcher. This contrast underscores the role of personal sacrifice, and rather than finding it aversive, suggests that children find this behavior emotionally rewarding.

“What’s most exciting about these findings is that children are happiest when giving their own treats away,” said Aknin, lead author of the study. “Forfeiting their own valuable resources for the benefit of others makes them happier than giving away just any treat.”

These findings shed light on a long-standing puzzle: Why do humans help others, including people they’ve just met? Part of the answer, it seems, is that giving feels good. The fact that toddlers show the warm glow of giving suggests that the capacity to derive joy from helping others is deeply woven into human nature.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of British Columbia.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

Lara B. Aknin, J. Kiley Hamlin, Elizabeth W. Dunn. Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (6): e39211 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039211

To a happier life,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

Check out the first issue of my new magazine, Happier – Positive Psychology for All, Volume 1 June 2012, (coming to iTunes bookstore soon!)

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

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The First Ever Issue of Happier – Positive Psychology for All

I thought you might like a sneak preview of the new magazine I’ve been working on in which I’m sharing the latest secrets from positive psychology!

Positive Psychology Magazine – Happier: Being Happier with Less Via Positive Psychology by John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Go ahead! Check it out! I’m quite proud!

To a happier life,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self, Inc.

Danville CA 94526

www.GuideToSelf.com 

Music, Emotion & Hormones: Why You Act the Way You Do!

June 13, 2012 in Psychology & Psychiatry

The velvety voice of Elvis Presley still makes hearts flutter—and in a new study with people who have the rare genetic disorder Williams syndrome, one of the King’s classics is among a group of songs that helped to cast light on part of the essence of being human: the mystery of emotion and human interaction.

In a study led by Julie R. Korenberg, Ph.D., M.D., University of Utah/USTAR professor, Circuits of the Brain and pediatrics, people with and without Williams syndrome (WS) listened to music in a trial to gauge emotional response through the release of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin (AVP), two hormones associated with emotion. The study, published June 12, 2012, in PLoS ONE, signals a paradigm shift both for understanding human emotional and behavioral systems and expediting the treatments of devastating illnesses such as WS, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and possibly even autism, according to Korenberg, senior author on the study and one of the world’s leading experts in genetics, brain, and behavior of WS.

“Our results could be very important for guiding the treatment of these disorders,” Korenberg says. “It could have enormous implications for personal the use of drugs to help people.”

The study also is the first to reveal new genes that control emotional responses and to show that AVP is involved in the response to music.

Williams syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of 25 to 28 genes on one copy of chromosome 7. Those with the disorder look at the world through a unique lens. They may view everyone as their friend, to the point of running up to total strangers and striking up conversations as though they are old acquaintances. They have an affinity for music. But they also experience heightened anxiety, have an average IQ of 60, experience severe spatial-visual problems, and suffer from cardiovascular and other health issues. Despite their desire to befriend people, they have difficulty creating and maintaining social relationships, something that is not at all understood but can afflict many people without WS.

Korenberg and colleagues from the U of U, University of Illinois, Chicago, and the Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif., conducted a trial with 21 participants, 13 who have WS and a control group of eight people without the disorder. The participants were evaluated at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Because music is a known strong emotional stimulus, the researchers asked participants to listen to music.

Before the music was played, the participants’ blood was drawn to determine a baseline level for oxytocin, and those with WS had three times as much of the hormone as those without the syndrome. Blood also was drawn at regular intervals while the music played and was analyzed afterward to check for real-time, rapid changes in the levels of oxytocin and AVP. Other studies have examined how oxytocin affects emotion when artificially introduced into people, such as through nasal sprays, but this is the one of the first significant studies to measure naturally occurring changes in oxytocin levels in rapid, real time as people undergo an emotional response.

Researchers asked the first participant to listen to the 1950s Elvis classic, “Love Me Tender.” The woman showed no outward response to the song, which can be typical not only of people with WS but particularly of people without the disorder whose faces may be impassive but jump up at the end of an exciting piece, Korenberg points out. But, to elicit a greater response from the remaining test participants, the researchers invited them to bring their favorite music to listen to—and many of them chose heavy metal. Again, there was little outward response to the music.

But when the blood samples were analyzed, the researchers were happily surprised. The analyses showed that the oxytocin levels, and to a lesser degree AVP, had not only increased but begun to bounce among WS participants while among those without WS, both the oxytocin and AVP levels remained largely unchanged as they listened to music. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in the woman who’d listened to “Love Me Tender” skyrocketed compared to the levels of participants who listened to different music.

Korenberg believes the blood analyses strongly indicate that oxytocin and AVP are not regulated correctly in people with WS, and that the behavioral characteristics unique to people with WS are related to this problem.

“This shows that oxytocin quite likely is very involved in emotional response,” Korenberg says.

To ensure accuracy of results, those taking the test also were asked to place their hands in 60-degree Fahrenheit water to test for negative stress, and the same results were produced as when they listened to music. Those with WS experienced an increase in oxytocin and AVP, while those without the syndrome did not.

Listening to Elvis was part of a larger study, published in the June 12, 2012 issue of PLoS One, that shows for the first time that oxytocin and another hormone associated with emotion, arginine vasopressin (AVP), are poorly regulated in people with WS and that atypical levels of oxytocin are linked to both the desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social clues.

WS is ideal for studying how genes influence social behavior and emotion, according to Korenberg. Unlike other social disorders, the cause of Williams syndrome is known, which is critical for pinpointing areas of the brain and genes related to the disorder. It also could be extremely important in finding drug targets for WS.

In addition to listening to music, study participants already had taken three standard social behavior tests that evaluate willingness to approach and speak to strangers, emotional states, and various areas of adaptive and problem behavior. Those test results suggest that increased levels of oxytocin are linked to both increased desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social cues, a double-edged message that may be very useful at times, for example, during courtship, but damaging at others, as in Williams syndrome.

“The association between abnormal levels of oxytocin and AVP and altered social behaviors found in people with Williams Syndrome points to surprising, entirely unsuspected deleted genes involved in regulation of these hormones and human sociability,” Korenberg said. “It also suggests that the simple characterization of oxytocin as ‘the love hormone’ may be an overreach. The data paint a far more complicated picture.”

However, the picture is very hopeful, and the study provides a key breakthrough that lights the way to making rapid progress in treating WS, and perhaps Autism and anxiety through regulation of these key players in human brain and emotion, oxytocin and vasopressin. It is important that work in the very near future may allow us to know how to adjust the dial on the OT and AVP system and its effects in different brain regions in ways that relieve suffering and improve the lives of those with the disorder, according to Korenberg.

http://www.eminemlab.com/images/wallpapers/Eminem-01-1024x768b.jpg

In particular, the study results indicate that the missing genes affect the release of oxytocin and AVP through the hypothalmus and the pituitary gland. About the size of a pearl, the hypothalamus is located just above the brain stem and produces hormones that control body temperature, hunger, mood, sex drive, sleep, hunger and thirst, and the release of hormones from many glands, including the pituitary. The pituitary gland, about the size of a pea, controls many other glands responsible for hormone secretion. The results of this study points to new clues as to what makes us and may prevent us from being just a bit more human.

Journal reference: PLoS ONE search and more info website

Provided by University of Utah Health Sciences search and more info website

Keep the faith!
John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschinTwitter

Relationships Affected By Your Goals – Better Than Others or Improve Self?

From the magnificent ScienceDaily.com…

John Schinnerer Ph.D. personal goal setting

Your View of Personal Goals Can Affect Your Relationships

ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2010) — How you think about your goalswhether it’s to improve yourself or to do better than others — can affect whether you reach those goals. Different kinds of goals can also have distinct effects on your relationships with people around you, according to the authors of a paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

People with “mastery goals” want to improve themselves. Maybe they want to get better grades, make more sales, or land that triple toe loop.

On the other hand, people with what psychologists call “performance goals” are trying to outperform others — to get a better grade than a friend or be Employee of the Year. Both kinds of goals can be useful in different contexts. But P. Marijn Poortvliet, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and Céline Darnon, of France’s Clermont University, are interested in the social context of these goals — what they do to your relationships.

For a FREE copy of the award-winning self-improvement book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, simply visit http://www.GuideToSelf.com and enter your name and email address for instant access to your very own PDF copy! Change the world by changing your self! 

Poortvliet’s work focuses on information exchange — whether people are open and honest when they are working together. “People with performance goals are more deceitful” and less likely to share information with coworkers, both in the laboratory and in real-world offices he has studied, Poortvliet says. “The reason is fairly obvious — when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

On the other hand, people who are trying to improve themselves are quite open, he says. “If the ultimate goal is to improve yourself, one way to do it is to be very cooperative with other people.” This can help improve the work environment, even though the people with these goals aren’t necessarily thinking about social relations. “They’re not really altruists, per se. They see the social exchange as a means toward the ends of self improvement.” Other research has found that people with these self-improvement goals are more open to hearing different perspectives, while people with a performance goal “would rather just say, ‘I’m just right and you are wrong.'”

It’s not always bad to be competitive, Poortvliet says. “For example, if you want to be the Olympic champion, of course it’s nice to have mastery goals and you should probably have mastery goals, but you definitely need performance goals because you want to be the winner and not the runner-up.”

But it’s important to think about how goals affect the social environment. “If you really want to establish constructive and long-lasting working relationships, then you should really balance the different levels of goals,” Poortvliet says — thinking not only about each person’s achievement, but also about the team as a whole.

Some people are naturally more competitive than others. But it’s also possible for managers to shift the kinds of goals people have by, for example, giving a bonus for the best employee. That might encourage people to set performance goals and compete against each other. On the other hand, it would also be possible to structure a bonus program to give people rewards based on their individual improvement over time.

Original article can be found by clicking here.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.

Journal Reference:
1. P. Marijn Poortvliet and Céline Darnon. Toward a More Social Understanding of Achievement Goals: The Interpersonal Effects of Mastery and Performance Goals. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2010; 19 (5): 324 DOI: 10.1177/0963721410383246

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

www.GuideToSelf.com

http://drjohnsblog.wordpress.com  Excellent blog on the latest anger management tools