Caitlin Flynn
December 27, 2016 3:57 pm

The year 2016 left plenty of people feeling demoralized, so you’ll be pleased to learn that we finally have some encouraging news about humankind — according to scientific research, our brains aren’t as selfish as you might think.

In fact, two new neuroscience studies indicate that the human brain is hardwired for generosity and empathy more than selfishness.

One study performed brain scans on participants to identify connections between generous behavior and brain activity, and the other dampened activity in areas of the brain associated with impulse control to see if this would alter a person’s empathetic actions.

The authors of both studies concluded that human behavior is not primarily guided by selfishness — rather, empathy and generosity guide our actions more than greed.


The importance of these findings extends beyond the comforting knowledge that humans are inherently empathetic — it also provides scientists and doctors with insight on how to best treat individuals with conditions that lower their ability to understand others. Researchers aim to someday treat people whose social cognition is impaired by regulating the neural pathways that affect empathetic feelings.

Neuroscientists observed that participants whose brain activity was most impacted by seeing others in pain were also the most generous individuals.

The most generous subjects in the study exhibited heightened brain activity in regions linked to recognizing pain and emotion.

In the second study, researchers temporarily disabled parts of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that they believed restricted generosity. Then, the participants were given money which they were free to distribute however they pleased. The scientists were right — the participants whose prefrontal cortexes had been shut down were approximately 50 percent more generous than the control group.

So, even the more “selfish” individuals amongst us have the ability within them to be generous and empathetic.

Not only do doctors now have a potential guide to treat those who struggle with social cognition, but we have the encouraging knowledge that most people are inherently good. During a time when our country is seemingly more divided than ever, let’s all try to remember this.