When the needle goes into someone’s arm or a scene in a movie is gruesome, what do you do? Do you turn away or cringe? Why?
You put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You recall what the prick of the needle feels like. Hopefully, you have never experienced anything gruesome, but still, you can imagine what it MIGHT feel like. Mental self-torture? No. I believe it’s a tool to connect us to other human beings.
In his NYT Bestselling book, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer states that our sympathetic instinct is one of the central motivations behind altruism–truly selfless acts. (To me, this instinct was put there by God, but I can’t speak for Mr. Lehrer’s view of human origins.) The interesting part is scientists have found that people, who show more activity in the sympathetic regions of the brain, often exhibit more altruistic behavior.
“…the lovely secret of altruism,” Lehrer says, “it feels good. The brain is designed so that acts of charity are pleasurable…” In studies, many people have shown more reward-related brain activity during acts of altruism than when receiving cash rewards. Hmm. Heard that somewhere before. Better to give than receive?
For those of you who volunteer for causes close to your hearts or perform random acts of kindness, that warm feeling is nothing new. BUT, I always find it interesting when science backs up something you’ve known, yet couldn’t quite explain. And it gets better…
According to a study published in the journal, Neuropsychologia, sympathy triggers not only the emotional centers of the brain, but also those associated with performing an action. We’re programmed to see and act. How about that?
What decisions have you or someone you know made in helping another that seemed irrational or inconvenient at the time, but proved a wonderful experience? What do you empathize with most?
Additional source: University Of Washington (2002, December 3). Search For Sympathy Uncovers Patterns Of Brain Activity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5