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Empathic and altruistic or cold and individualistic: our brains reveal the truth

12 May 2021
New research by SISSA published in Neurolmage

Are you empathic, generous and altruistic? In short, do you possess that specific personality trait defined as agreeableness in the language of psychologists? New research from SISSA recently published in the journal NeuroImage sheds light on brain mechanisms underlying this trait. The study showed that detached and individualistic subjects seem to process information associated with social and non-social contexts in similar ways, as demonstrated by similar activation patterns in the prefrontal cortex, whereas in more agreeable subjects the activation patterns arising from social and non-social situations show more differences.

This suggests that individuals with high levels of agreeableness are able to discern social contents that are important, and particularly informative, for achieving successful interactions with others. This should not be surprising, since individual agreeableness is associated with characteristics, such as empathy, cooperation and generosity, which require the ability to recognise the cognitive, emotional and motivational aspects of others in social situations. These findings could contribute to future development of more objective and sensitive personality tests, including individuals’ brain responses to stimuli varying in social content as a measure of agreeableness. The research was carried out by Dr. Sandra Arbula and Elisabetta Pisanu, and coordinated by Professor Raffaella I. Rumiati.