Charity begins . . . in the posterior superior temporal salcus, according to scientists who have traced the origins of altruism in the brain.
A study found that this part of the brain is more active in people who often engage in helpful behaviour.
The region, which lies in the top and back portion of the brain, is linked to sorting out social relationships.
US scientists scanned the brains of 45 volunteers using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging which can watch the brain working.
At the same time, participants either played a computer game, or watched the computer play the game on its own. In either case, winning the game earned money for a chosen charity.
Volunteers were also questioned about how often they put others before themselves—in other words, how altruistic they were.
The brain scans revealed that the most charitable showed the most activity in the posterior superior temporal salcus when the computer game was being played.
Study leader Dr Scott Huettel, a neuroscientist from Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina, said: “Although understanding the function of this brain region may not necessarily identify what drives people like Mother Theresa, it may give clues to the origins of important social behaviours like altruism.”
Further research in the area may lead to greater understanding of disorders such as autism or antisocial behaviour, say the researchers.
The findings were reported in the online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience.
[The abstract for this article may be found at http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nn1833.html. The article itself is available only to subscribers.]