Posted on September 22, 2014 by David
The Science of the Brain – the Amygdala
I have written in several blogs here about the amygdala – a part of the brain located in the experiential brain (as opposed to the rational brain in the frontal lobes). The amygdala is the seat of certain emotions including what we have talked about for years as the “fight or flight” syndrome. But with scientific tests of functional MRI’s (fMRIs), the amygdala is seen as the seat of many emotions and the function of empathy.
NPR.org had an article about the amydgala and altruism today. “The amygdala was significantly larger in the altruists compared to those who had never donated an organ. Additionally, the amygdala in the altruists was extremely sensitive to the pictures of people displaying fear or distress.”
Many people who believe in different religions hold that altruism only comes from a god. Howver, science is showing that altruism, and empathy are natural effects with natural causes. And this raises the responsibility that those of us who are dedicated to developing ourselves and others need to be aware of this function of the brain so that we can develop altruism and empathy in ourselves as well as others.
The article also tells of tests of the amygdala showing a lack of a developed amygdala in psychopaths. Which again, in practical terms, shows us why when people are convicted of crimes, and have a less-developed amygdala, they should be sentenced to serve time in an environment where their amygdala can be developed rather than an environment where their amygdala will shrink even more.
We learn a lot about ourselves and other humans from the science of the brain.
It has occurred to me that there is another vein of evidence showing that altruism and even empathy is a natural cause and not due to supernatural forces. Anyone with a dog as a pet, or has seen the fierce bond between a dog and its "owner", will recognize the traits of both altruism and empathy. A dog will understand what its "owner" is thinking or feeling, and many have been known to act altruistically - acting in a way for another in spite of the personal costs.
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