Why are some people more selfless than others?

I recently listed to a Ted talk by Abigail Marsh on altruism. It really got me thinking about why some people do more selfless things that others.

I’m fascinated by the human capacity to care for others, and frequently ask where does it come from and how does it develop? Compassion is a key driver of altruism, and the brains of highly altruistic people are different in some very important ways. Marsh compared the brains of altruists (her sample were kidney donors) to that of psychopaths. Did you know psychopaths brains have 3 characteristics – 1. can’t read fearful facial expressions 2. underactive amygdala (part of the brain that recognises fearful expressions) 3. smaller amygdala (smaller in size by 18-20%). Marsh found that altruists brains were the total opposite. They had overactive amygdala’s that were 8% larger than the general population. They are also better at reading people’s facial expressions of fear. This means that altruists have different brains than the normal population.

By studying altruists, Marsh also found that compassion extends to people outside their social circle, to total strangers. Most people have a self-centred view of the world, with themselves in the middle, and they generally have compassion for their innermost circle of closest family and friends. Altruists have a different view of the world, which features an amazing lack of self-centredness. Altruists don’t see themselves as the centre of these concentric circles, and their compassion extends way beyond the inner most circle, right through to complete strangers. Noone is more or less worthy of their care and compassion.

As societies become wealthier, there is a trend for looking outward, not inward, which has seen an increase in altruistic acts such as volunteering and charitable donations. The roots of altruism and compassion are at the roots of human nature, and people can become more altruistic by taking themselves out of the centre of the circle of their universe and extend kindness to complete strangers.

Caring Canary strives to extend our circle of kindness and compassion, and we are proud to be the gift sponsor for The Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation’s Annual Ladies Lunch fundraiser. 

Watch the video here