Tags: brain | social | emotions | empathy

We Are Born to Care

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Friday, 14 Mar 2014 04:04 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The human brain is hard-wired to connect with other people, and our social interactions throughout the course of our lives are a by-product of the evolution of the human brain that has taken place across hundreds of millennia. Our ancient ancestors who first learned to socialize formed larger, more complex groups that had a better chance of surviving in a harsh environment.
 
This process accelerated the development and intricacy of our frontal lobe — the so-called “thinking brain.” Through a complex and efficient neural network, empathy allows us to experience not just the emotional states of others, but also their physical pleasure and pain.
 
For example, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study couples who were in love, and measured their brain activity when one of the partners observed the other experience a painful pinprick.The MRI reading of the person experiencing the pain was almost identical to the signal coming from the observer.
 
A network of brain regions, including the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, brainstem, and cerebellum were all activated in both subjects.This shows that even without a direct sensory stimulation, empathy triggers a major part of our emotional experience.
 
MRI studies have also shown that when we observe another person experiencing happiness, sadness, pain, embarrassment, or almost any emotion, it can activate the same neural networks in our own brains and cause us to feel the same emotion. So when we relate to what our loved ones feel, our brains are very much “there for them.”
 
The average child or adolescent does not yet have the same capacity to feel the pain or joy of other people as the typical adult. Many scientists have observed this phenomenon.
 
Dr. Robert McGivern and his co-workers at San Diego State University investigated adolescent volunteers who viewed faces expressing different emotional states. Compared to people from older age groups, teens needed more time to identify the specific emotions expressed by the faces.
 
Another recent study of 75,000 people found that empathy peaks when we are in our 50s, and that women tend to be more empathic than men. Using MRI scanning, Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of University College in London studied pre-teens and teenagers (11 to 17 years), as well as young adults (21 to 37 years), and found that when making everyday decisions, teenagers utilized a brain network in their temporal lobes (underneath the temples). Older volunteers used their prefrontal cortex, a region that processes how our decisions affect other people.
 
This observation suggests that as we age, different brain regions control our ability to experience empathy. When comparing adults and teens, the mature, thoughtful frontal lobe is better able to provide the perspective to overturn the more primitive temporal lobe — the instinctive brain — and thus fosters more empathetic decisions.

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The human brain is hard-wired to connect with other people, and our social interactions throughout the course of our lives are a by-product of the evolution of the human brain that has taken place across hundreds of millennia.
brain,social,emotions,empathy
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2014-04-14
Friday, 14 Mar 2014 04:04 PM
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