What If A Simple Drug Could Make Everyone Less Selfish?
What If A Simple Drug Could Make Everyone Less Selfish? – A team of researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology recently published a groundbreaking study in which they identified brain neurons associated with prosocial and selfish behaviors in mice. And then they figured out how to turn these neurons on and off.
Inspired by the lonely isolation condition, they felt during the COVID-19 lockdown, lead author Diego Scheggia said he initially sought to “understand the social factors and neurobiological determinants of altruism and also of self-interest.”
However, according to a report by Ingrid Fadelli on the Medical Xpress website, Scheggia felt society had moved away from altruism toward “selfish concern and disregard for others” in the years leading up to the outbreak.
Instead of seeing the perceived problem as a purely social problem, they began to explore the role that natural brain activity can play in influencing our social outcomes.
Are we victims of our own neural activity? Is this something we can change?
To get to the bottom of things, Scheggia and a group of fellow scientists turned to the world’s most popular analog of the human brain: a humble lab rat.
First, they adapted an experiment designed to measure people’s prosocial and selfish behavior called “The Dictator Game” so that it could be used with rats.
The researchers created a situation where, after receiving a food reward, a mouse was asked to decide whether to share the food with its closest companion. His immediate conclusions were unexpected.
According to the team’s paper, “altruistic choice preferences were modulated by familiarity, gender, social contacts, hunger, hierarchical status, and emotional state compliance.”
In other words, they determined that mice decide whether to act selfishly or help others based on whether they like the specific mouse or mice they encounter.
It may sound like common sense, but here’s the fun part: The team then identified the individual neurons and clusters associated with the behavior and introduced a chemical intervention to prevent it.
In essence, they developed a map of mouse neural activity associated with selfishness and prosocial behavior.
This could help scientists understand extreme human behavior associated with sociopathy, psychopathy, and antisocial violence.
It is important not to advance the investigation here, as it is too early. Also, the mouse brain and the human brain are not the same. However, this is good news for having many reasons.
As noted, this may lead to a better understanding of what goes on in the brains of people who seem to gravitate toward extreme options when making social decisions. This may allow early diagnosis and intervention for a large number of related conditions.
It also represents an important milestone in our ongoing effort to map the entire human brain. There are about 86 billion neurons in our brain. When you consider the number of potential neurological connections, both in terms of space and time, as well as the degree of variability between people – how many different ways these neurones can interact with each other – the task of determining whether each of them becomes very difficult.
Finally, at the other end of the spectrum (and into the future), we can envision the use of chemogenetics to train our brains to act altruistically. It’s like taking a vitamin that makes you more likely to share.
Of course, this also means that we can imagine the opposite paradigm, where our brains are manipulated to treat everyone as strangers so that we always prioritize ourselves as the protagonist of each story. Once again, we already have. It’s called “social networking.”