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SEPTEMBER , 2022 | THE HEALTH
It ’ s always possible to be kind
Being a caring person has obvious positive effects on one ’ s health and happiness
BY DR WAEL MY MOHAMED
YOU ’ VE probably heard the adage ‘ It ’ s better to give than to take ’. But you might not know that it ’ s supported by science .
When will we have time to assist others ? A region in the brain has been identified as responsible for this behaviour .
Being a caring person has apparent positive effects on one ’ s health and happiness . Such people might even outlive their predecessors .
As a bonus , acts of kindness have decreased anxiety and boosted psychological health . There is a lot of strain and tension in everyone ’ s lives .
Compassion may be overlooked in favour of more pressing concerns or current fads . It ’ s simple to show support for a cause by posting on social media and joining a movement , but it takes more effort to actually live out that cause in our daily interactions with others .
But if we invest in generosity to others , we will feel better about ourselves . And for those who are weak or struggling , it can be a lifesaver .
Scientists from the University of Birmingham and the University of Oxford have identified a region of the brain that is responsible for the motivation to assist others . A significant contribution from the anterior cingulate cortex gyrus can be traced to the decision to aid others physically .
Understanding what drives individuals
The findings , published in Current Biology , indicate that the brain regions involved in self-help vs selflessness are distinct . Clinical strategies for treating psychopathic behaviours may benefit from a better understanding of the neural processes underlying such
Being a caring person has apparent positive effects on one ’ s health and happiness . Such people might even outlive their predecessors . ”
It might also shed light on the motivations behind common yet admirable acts of kindness , like volunteering , collaborative work , recycling to combat climate change , and offering assistance to strangers . The detected region , known as the anterior cingulate cortex gyrus ( ACCg ), is found in the brain ’ s frontal lobes .
It has been linked to various aspects of social conduct but not to the initiative to aid others . Researchers were surprised to discover that the ACCg is not engaged when people make deliberate choices that primarily benefit themselves .
The brain mechanics driving acts of kindness , such as holding out a door or volunteering , have remained elusive . By pinpointing the precise brain region activated when people need to put in the effort , we have taken a step closer to understanding what drives some individuals .
Forty-eight people , all between the ages of 18 and 35 , were involved in the study . To gauge participants ’ degrees of empathy , researchers had them participate in a taxing decision-making exercise and fill out a questionnaire . The subjects made decisions while scanned with a functional MRI machine . This reveals the many active brain regions when participants choose to “ work ” or “ relax ” to better
Dr Wael MY Mohamed is with the Department of Basic Medical Science , Kulliyyah of Medicine , International Islamic University Malaysia ( IIUM ). themselves or others .
Shedding light on the cognitive processes
To determine who would be assigned to work , they were given a grip strength measuring device to be squeezed . They had to keep it up until they hit a certain point , which would be displayed in real-time .
They were informed of the consequences of their choices , whether they would be working for themselves or someone else . If they chose to exert themselves , they would have to exert themselves to the point where they would get the prize , which was a certain number of issues that could be exchanged for cash for themselves or the other anonymous person they were playing for .
Brain patterns indicative of a willingness to exert effort were discovered by the researchers using a novel statistical method of data analysis . They found that when people made decisions to help others , the ACCg was the only region of the brain to display the effort pattern .
But it did not engage at all when people made decisions to put in the effort to reward themselves . Those who self-reported having high levels of empathy also showed robust effort patterns in ACCg , which is an intriguing finding .
The study participants who showed the most effort representation in the ACCg contributed the most in grip strength . The next stage for the research team was to examine the effects of lesions in that part of the brain , whether from stroke or other brain injuries , on people ’ s effortful helping behaviour .
These results shed light on the cognitive processes that underpin the decision to help others , which has crucial implications for promoting prosocial behaviour in everyday life and treating illness . The moment has come to rethink how we might build a more compassionate society that safeguards our emotional well-being . — The Health