Researchers Study Human Brains To See If We’re Born To Be Selfish, Results Are Surprising

Researchers Study Human Brains To See If We’re Born To Be Selfish, Results Are Surprising

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King puts the choice before all of us between altruism and selfishness. The choice, it may seem, may be easier than first thought. A recent study published in in the journal Human Brain Mapping, reveals altruism may in fact be rooted in the brain.

The study’s co-author Leonardo Christov-Moore, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA’s Institute 6of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said “Our altruism may be more hardwired than previously thought“.


The ramifications of the findings could be of great importance, as Marco Iacoboni, a UCLA psychiatry professor and senior author of the study notes that it could help make people behave in less selfish ways.

“This is potentially groundbreaking,” he said.

The first study

Christov-Moore and Marco Iacoboni recruited 20 participants to undertake the study. The brain activity of all of the participants was monitored using a functional magnetic resonance machine (fMRI). The participants were shown a video of a hand being poked with a pin and were then asked to imitate photographs of different faces. Each of the faces displayed distinct emotions, for example: happiness, sadness, excitement and anger.

It was found that the amygdala, somatosensory cortex and anterior insula are associated with experiencing emotion, pain and imitating others. Regulating behavior and controlling impulses was seen to be controlled by two distinct areas in the prefrontal cortex.


The next part of the study involved a separate activity. This activity required the participants to play a game, known as the dictator game, where participants are given a specific amount of money which they can choose to keep for themselves or share with a stranger. In this particular study the participants were given $10. The game consisted of 24 rounds. The strangers that were shown to the participants were all Los Angeles residence whose real income and ages were used. Their names were changed for the purpose of privacy.

Findings of the first study

Once the first part of the study was completed the researchers compared the brain scans with the amount of money each of the participants chose to give away.

One-third of the participants were the most generous. They showed the strongest responses in the areas of the brain associated with emotion, perceiving pain and imitating others. On average this group gave away around 75 percent of their money.

On the other hand, the participants with the most activity in the prefrontal cortex proved to be the tightest with their money. They only gave away $1 to $3 per round.


Researchers labeled the desire to share with others as the mirroring impulse or “prosocial resonance”. This impulse is thought to provide the impetus behind altruism. Christov-Moore said. “The more we tend to vicariously experience the states of others, the more we appear to be inclined to treat them as we would ourselves.” 

The second study

The second study, published in the journal Social Neuroscience scientists looked at the prefrontal cortex and sought to explore how the brain works when people are involved in decision making. 58 people participated in the study; 20 of these participants were involved in the first study.

All participants underwent non-invasive procedures that temporarily weakened certain areas of brain activity.

The results of the second study

Participants proved to be 50 percent more generous when activity in their prefrontal cortex was weakened. Christov-Moore explained that by reducing the power of the prefrontal cortex people were free to empathize and feel compassion for others.


He elaborated as follows: “participants would have been expected to give according to need, but with that area of the brain dampened, they temporarily lost the ability for social judgments to affect their behavior. By dampening this area, we believe we laid bare how altruistic each study  participant naturally was.”


The findings these two studies are eye opening. We, as human beings, may be more selfless and altruistic than many of us may assume. The studies show that James R. Ozinga may be right in saying,

“Altruism is an instinct for survival that may be in our genes–an internal force for goodness in everyone that  begins with birth.”

Featured photo credit: The Humanist via

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Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

There are many reasons why people might scream – they’re angry, scared, or in pain (or maybe they’re in a metal band!). Some might say that screaming is bad, but here’s why science says it’s good for you.

“For the first time in the history of psychology there is a way to access feelings, hidden away, in a safe way and thus to reduce human suffering. It is, in essence, the first science of psychotherapy.” — Dr. Arthur Janov

Primal Therapy

Dr. Arthur Janov invented Primal Therapy in the late 1960’s. It is a practice that allows the patient to face their repressed emotions from past trauma head on and let those emotions go. This treatment is intended to cure any mental illness the patient may have that surfaced from this past trauma. In most cases, Primal Therapy has lead Dr. Janov’s patients to scream towards the end of their session, though it was not part of the original procedure. During a group therapy session that was at a standstill, Dr. Janov says that one of his patients, a student he called Danny, told a story that inspired him to implement a technique that he never would have thought of on his own.


How it Started

“During a lull in our group therapy session, he told us a story about a man named Ortiz who was currently doing an act on the London stage in which he paraded around in diapers drinking bottles of milk. Throughout his number, Ortiz is shouting, ‘Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!’ at the top of his lungs. At the end of his act he vomits. Plastic bags are passed out, and the audience is requested to follow suit.”

It doesn’t end there, though. Dr. Janov said that his patient was quite fascinated with that story, and that alone moved him to suggest something even he believed to be a little elementary.

“I asked him to call out, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ Danny refused, saying that he couldn’t see the sense in such a childish act, and frankly, neither could I. But I persisted, and finally, he gave in. As he began, he became noticeably upset. Suddenly he was writhing on the floor in agony. His breathing was rapid, spasmodic. ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ came out of his mouth almost involuntarily in loud screeches. He appeared to be in a coma or hypnotic state. The writhing gave way to small convulsions, and finally, he released a piercing, deathlike scream that rattled the walls of my office. The entire episode lasted only a few minutes, and neither Danny nor I had any idea what had happened. All he could say afterward was: ‘I made it! I don’t know what, but I can feel.’”

Delving deeper

Dr. Janov says he was baffled for months, but then he decided to experiment with another patient with the same method, which lead to a similar result as before. The patient started out calling “Mommy! Daddy!” then experienced convulsions, heavy breathing, and then eventually screamed. After the session, Dr. Janov says his patient was transformed and became “virtually another human being. He became alert… he seemed to understand himself.”

Although the initial intention of this particular practice wasn’t to get the patient to scream, more than once did his Primal Therapy sessions end with the patient screaming and feeling lighter, revived, and relieved of stresses that were holding them down in life.

Some Methods To Practice Screaming

If you want to try it out for yourself, keep reading!


  • Step 1: Be Alone — Be alone. If you live in a place that you can’t be alone, it might be a good idea to talk to your family or roommates and explain to them what you’re about to do and make sure they’re okay with it. If you’re good to go, move on to step 2.
  • Step 2: Lie Down — Lie down on a yoga mat on your back and place a pillow underneath your head. If you don’t own a yoga mat, you can use a rug or even a soft blanket.
  • Step 3: Think — Think of things that have hurt you or made you angry. It can be anything from your childhood or even something that happened recently to make yourself cry, if you’re not already crying or upset. You could even scream “Mommy! Daddy!” just like Dr. Janov’s patients did to get yourself started.
  • Step 4: Scream — Don’t hold anything back; cry and scream as loud as you can. You can also pound your fists on the ground, or just lie there and scream at the top of your lungs.

After this, you should return your breathing to a normal and steady pace. You should feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of you. If not, you can also try these other methods.

Scream Sing

Scream singing” is referring to what a lot of lead singers in metal or screamo bands will do. I’ve tried it and although I wasn’t very good at it, it was fun and definitely relieved me of any stress I was feeling from before. It usually ends up sounding like a really loud grunt, but nonetheless, it’s considered screaming.


  • Step 1 — Bear down and make a grunting sound.
  • Step 2 — Hiss like a snake and make sure to do this from your diaphragm (your stomach) for as long as you can.
  • Step 3 — Breathe and push your stomach out for more air when you are belting notes, kind of like you would if you were singing.
  • Step 4 — Try different ways to let out air to control how long the note will last, just make sure not to let out too much air.
  • Step 5 — Distort your voice by pushing air out from your throat, just be careful not to strain yourself.
  • Step 6 — Play around with the pitch of your screams and how wide your mouth is open – the wider your mouth is open, the higher the screams will sound. The narrower or rounder your mouth is (and most likely shaped like an “o”), the lower the screams will sound.
  • Step 7 — Start screaming to metal music. If you’re not a huge metal fan, it’s okay. You don’t have to use this method if you don’t want to.

If you want a more thorough walkthrough of how to scream sing, here’s a good video tutorial. If this method is too strenuous on your vocal chords, stop. Also, make sure to stay hydrated when scream singing and drink lots of water.

Scream into a pillow

Grab a pillow and scream into it. This method is probably the fastest and easiest way to practice screaming. Just make sure to come up for air.


Always remember to make sure that you’re not going to disturb anyone while practicing any of these methods of screaming. And with that, happy screaming!

Featured photo credit: Sharon Mollerus via

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