New study uncovers the neurology behind how kind and generous you are


Virtually every society rests its principles on the basic constructs of good and evil. The tendency presumes that one denotes the absence of the other when the reality actually exists in a clinical gray area.

As concluded by a pioneering new paper published in the February edition of Nature Neuroscience,  human ecology is informed by physiological signatures. When the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex fail to communicate in sync, instances of anti-social behavior increases.

“Social behaviors recruit multiple cognitive operations that require interactions between cortical and subcortical brain regions. Interareal synchrony may facilitate such interactions between cortical and subcortical neural populations,” the authors write. “These findings suggest that specialized coordination in the medial prefrontal–amygdala network underlies social-decision preferences.”

Specialized Medial Prefrontal–Amygdala Coordination

The new study was co-authored by Olga Dal Monte,  Cheng C. J. ChuNicholas A. Fagan and Steve W. C. Chang of Yale University’s department of psychology.

This neurological correlation observed by Dal Monte and her team not only determined the presence of prosocial and antisocial traits, but it also allowed the experts to gauge the extent to which they were present.

The first leg of the research employed non-human primate models. Monkeys were encouraged to choose between sharing fruit juice with another monkey and keeping the sample for themselves over the course of multiple trials. During each scenario, the psychologists would monitor neural activity.

In every trial, a monkey’s decision to act benevolently was preluded by the basolateral amygdala and the rostral anterior cingulate gyrus region of their medial prefrontal cortex expressing high synchronization. The exact inverse was evident when the subjects decided to act selfishly.

By merely analyzing the degree of neural suppression and synchronicity the authors were able to reliably predict which outcome each primate was about to realize. 

“We found a unique signature of neural synchrony that reflects whether a prosocial or an antisocial decision was made,” senior author Chang, who is an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Yale, said in a news release. “We all know there are individual differences in levels of generosity. Maybe Scrooge did not have high levels of synchrony after all.”

While lesser primates may not evidence as many genetic similarities to us as the great apes,  the researchers suspect their finds to be translatable to human subjects saying nothing of the previously published literature bridging the gap between aggression and neurological deficiencies.

Not unlike the thesis recently motioned by the journal Scientific Reports back in January the core elements of empathetic behaviors are authored by biological predispositions as opposed to some conditioned moral avatar. 

“Synchronization between the two nodes was enhanced for a positive other-regarding preference but suppressed for a negative ORP,” the authors write. “These interactions occurred in beta and gamma frequency bands depending on the area contributing the spikes, exhibited a specific directionality of information flow associated with a positive ORP and could be used to decode social decisions.”

The new study, published on February  24th, 2020, is titled Specialized Medial Prefrontal–Amygdala Coordination in Other-Regarding Decision Preference.

The report can be read in full in the Journal of Nature Neuroscience.