Neuroscientist Jorge Moll discovered a link between altruism and a primitive part of the brain responsible for pleasure receptors like what one would feel in response to food or sex. Moll made his discovery while studying the brains of volunteers when asked to make a selfless or selfish decision. This discovery laid the groundwork for an examination of the link between human behavior and its physiological impact on the brain (http://www.idor.org/nossa-equipe).
In the study, volunteers were asked if they would keep a sum of money for themselves or give it to charity. Those who decided to give the sum to charity were noted to have activated the part of their brain designed to feel pleasure. Those who kept the money had the opposite result.
Jorge Moll’s research is important as it shows a biological link between human behavior and morality. The brain is designed to provide pleasure for making decisions for the good of the group. The basis of this neurological result is likely empathy, as the individual making the decisions must sacrifice something for themselves for the good of others.
This discovery served to underline the results of similar studies done both in the animal kingdom and in individuals with impaired brain activity. Sociopaths and psychopaths were noted to not be able to experience this pleasure receptor and would always make decisions that supported their own means. This research has the potential to change the way we view those with immoral behavior, as there is a clear physiological link between pleasure and altruism.
Jorge Moll discovered this link in 2006 while completing research with fellow neuroscientist Jordan Grafman at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Moll is also the President-director and member of the governing board of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education and was elected as an affiliate member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences in 2008.