The area was identified using a computer game that linked different symbols to cash prizes that either went to the player, or one of the study’s other participants. The volunteers readily learned to score prizes that helped other people, but they tended to learn how to benefit themselves more quickly.
MRI scanning revealed that one particular brain area – the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex – seemed to be active when participants chose to be generous, prioritising benefits for someone else over getting rewards for themselves.
But Patricia Lockwood, at the University of Oxford, and her team found that this brain area was not equally active in every volunteer. People who rated themselves as having higher levels of empathy learned to benefit others faster, and these people had more activity in this particular brain area, says Lockwood.
This finding may lead to new ways to identify and understand anti-social and psychopathic behaviour.
New Scientist. 2016. “Are you a nice person? Brain scans can tell how generous you are”. New Scientist. Posted: August 15, 2016. Available online: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2101023-are-you-a-nice-person-brain-scans-can-tell-how-generous-you-are/