Doing the right thing

By • Published: April 3rd, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

History has presented us with such diverse personalities as Florence Nightingale, who sacrificed her personal life to find better ways to care for the sick, and Nero, who is rumored to have played the lyre while Rome burned.

But what makes one person put the welfare of others ahead of their own, while someone else might care less?

Perhaps it’s because altruistic people have a more talented posterior superior temporal sulcus [Sulk-Us] — we’ll call it the P-S-T-S.

This region lies in the top and back portion of the brain and is believed to play a role in social relationships.

The idea that the P-S-T-S plays a role in altruism came when researchers at Duke University Medical Center scanned the brains of forty-five people who were playing a computer game to earn money for charity.

The volunteers had already been quizzed about how often they engaged in different helping behaviors. Scientists compared the scans with the altruistic profiles to find that P-S-T-S activity strongly predicted a person’s likelihood for altruistic behavior.

Scientists believe altruistic people are exceptionally able to tune into other people’s feelings.

Ultimately, studying the cerebral systems that allow people to understand what makes the world meaningful for their fellow humans may help increase understanding of autism, antisocial behavior and disorders characterized by poor interpersonal interactions.

One last P.S. regarding the P-S-T-S: Researchers are now exploring ways to study the development of this brain region early in life in hope of determining how the tendencies toward altruism begin.