Monkeys know sacrifice, too! 'Unselfish gene' found in primates
Animals, like humans, protect less fortunate animals due to genetic makeup
The capacity for empathy is not an exclusively human trait. Animals have been known to fend and protect their young along with the less fortunate members of their own kind as well. How and why remains a mystery. Mice will starve rather than hurt friends and monkeys will go hungry if their friends go hungry as well. According to a new study, brain cells that fire only when monkeys act unselfishly may provide clues to the neural basis of altruism.
The study provides a "complete picture of the neuronal activity underlying a key aspect of social cognition," neuroscientist Matthew Rushworth at Oxford wrote in an email. "It is definitely a major achievement."
This "do-gooder" impulse in animals may have evolved into the altruism we see in humans today, said study co-author Michael Platt, a neuroscientist at Duke University.
Understanding how altruism works in the brain has been trickier. When people do something unselfish such as give to charity, reward circuits that usually fire when eating chocolate or doing something pleasurable are activated, Platt says.
People feel differently between doing well for themselves and being kind to others. Researchers studied how the brain encodes unselfish, other-oriented acts separate from personal gain.
Platt and his colleagues taught rhesus monkeys to play a simple computer game where they looked at different shapes to either give themselves, a nearby neighbor monkey or no one a squirt of juice.
Monkeys almost always give themselves juice when they have the option. After teaching the monkeys the rules of the game, the researchers set up another trial where they could either give the other monkey juice or give it nothing. None of the choices led to a tasty juice squirt for the actor monkey.
The result? The monkeys consistently preferred doling out juice to other monkeys over giving nothing. Replacing the second monkey with another bottle of juice, the monkeys showed no preference for dispensing juice, showing that they were motivated by the reward to the other monkey.
Electrodes in the monkey's brain recorded the electrical firing from neurons in brain regions suspected of playing a role in altruism. It was discovered that a brain region called the orbitofrontal cortex fired when monkeys got juice squirts for themselves. "The orbitofrontal cortex seems to be all about your personal reward. It's egocentric," Platt said.
Intriguingly, however, some neurons in a region called the anterior cingulate gyrus fired when the monkey got its own juice, while others fired when monkeys gave their neighbors juice.
It's not yet known what's going on in the monkeys' brains. The results suggest that this brain region may be partly responsible for creating primitive forms of empathy.
© 2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More U.S. News
- My Journey Home to the Church and to Penance, the Sacrament of Freedom
- Crisis pregnancy Centers: Heeding Pope Francis' Call to 'Accompany' Women Contemplating Abortion
- Pope Francis calls for your 'prayer and action' to end global hunger
- What happened to Roanoke's Lost Colony? New clues cast a mysterious light on an old legend
- Fr Paul Schenck: Immaculate Conception Tells us Who Mary Is and Who We Are
- Nuclear password to start World War III - was 00000000
- Same-sex weddings now comprise 17 percent of all Washington state marriages
- St. Nicholas: Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa
- HHS Mandate News: Priests for Life to Have its Day in Court!
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?