Find it hard to FORGIVE? Your “aSTS” may need “a fill-up”

Why do some of us find it easier to forgive?

When we feel that somebody has wronged us personally, we make a  moral judgment.  From a neuropsychological viewpoint, the act of judging a moral situation is incredibly complex and has a lot to do with intentionality – did the perpetrator really mean to do those awful things?

Making a mature moral judgment about a wrongful act involves not only considering the damage done, but also the perpetrator’s intention and mental state. When there is a clear contradiction between the two, however, intention seems to take precedence over the result of the action.

A study shows that a specific area in the brain called the anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) plays a key role in forgiving those who create unintentional harm.

Indrajeet Patil, the study’s primary author, details this further and puts the new research into context:

“Behavioural studies have already shown that when the intention and outcome of an action are conflicting, as in the case of sometimes serious accidental harm, people tend to focus mainly on the intentions when formulating a judgment. And this is more or less a universal feature of mature moral judgments across cultures.”

” . . . very few studies have taken on this issue from an anatomical point of view, to gain an understanding of whether differences in the volume and structure of certain areas of the brain might explain variations in moral judgment. This research attempted to explore precisely this aspect.”

Studying the neuroanatomical basis of forgiveness

To do this, the researchers asked 50 participants to complete a moral judgement task. The volunteers were presented with 36 unique stories and four potential outcomes for each of them.

Each scenario comprised four parts:

  • Some background information
  • A foreshadowing segment, in which it was suggested that the outcome would be either neutral or harmful
  • Information on the neutral or intentionally harmful mental state of the agent
  • The consequence, which revealed the agent’s action and the resulting outcome.

“Participants read each story and were asked to give their moral judgment by answering questions regarding “acceptability” and “blame.” . . . “the participants were asked: “How morally acceptable was [the agent]’s behavior?” and “How much blame does [the agent] deserve?” The volunteers gave answers based on a scale from 1 to 7.”

“While answering the questions, the participants’ brain activity was analyzed using voxel-based morphometry – a neuroimaging technique that allows for a holistic examination of brain changes while simultaneously preserving a high degree of brain region specificity.”

“The researchers also used neuroimaging to localize the neural areas responsible for the so-called theory of mind (ToM). ToM, or “mentalizing,” is a person’s ability to correctly attribute mental states – such as beliefs, intentions, and desires – to others based on their behavior. Mentalizing also refers to the person’s ability to explain and predict other people’s behavior based on these inferences.”

People with a more developed aSTS are more inclined to forgive

The results revealed a connection between the differences in moral judgement severity about unintentional harm and the volume of the left aSTS brain region.

More specifically, the more developed the aSTS was, the less blame was attributed to the wrongdoers. “The greater the gray matter volume [in this area], the less accidental harm-doers are condemned.” 

Patil further explains the findings:

“The aSTS was already known to be involved in the ability to represent the mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc.) of others. According to our conclusions, individuals with more gray matter at aSTS are better able to represent the mental state of those responsible for actions and thus comprehend the unintentional nature of the harm. In expressing judgment they are thus able to focus on this latter aspect and give it priority over the especially unpleasant consequences of the action. For this reason, ultimately, they are less inclined to condemn it severely.”

If you find it hard to forgive, your challenge NOW is to forgive your anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) for not having more grey matter.  

The researchers were led by Giorgia Silani from the University of Vienna in Austria, and the study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Trieste University in Italy and Boston College in Massachusetts. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Did You Know Your Brain is Wired to be Social?

Research indicates that the stronger your social connections the healthier and longer you may live.   Scientific studies show that your brain is not just a passive device, disconnected from other brains, alone in the world.  You are literally on the same wave-length with people in your life.

How Your Brain Wiring Drives Social Interactions

Credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock

Here are excerpts from two interesting studies:

“On 11 days over the course of one semester, researchers hooked up all 12 of the students in a biology class to portable devices called electroencephalograms (EEGs) that measured their brain waves.”

The more synced up a student’s brain waves were with the brain waves of the rest of the students in the class, the more likely that person was to say that he or she enjoyed the class that day. For example, when the researchers analyzed brain waves called alpha waves, they found that students’ waves were more likely to rise and fall at the same time as other students’ waves when they were highly engaged in the class

Likewise, when a student’s brain waves were less synced with those of the rest of the class, the student was less likely to say that he or she was engaged.

“How well our brain waves sync up with those of another person appears to be a good predictor of how well we get along and how engaged we are,” lead study author Suzanne Dikker, a psychology research scientist at New York University”. 

Monkey See, Monkey Sync

“New tools which involve electrodes implanted into the brains of animals can probe the brains of living animals while they are engaged in social interactions, providing insights into how the brain controls certain behaviors.”

These tools have also revealed that brains likely don’t operate in isolation. There is biological evidence that two minds really can be on the same wavelength.

“What could be more social than brains acting in sync? Similar brain activity may be fundamental for how animals, including humans, interact to form social bonds, according to Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neuroscience at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina.”

“Nicolelis’ group built an experiment in which one monkey drives a vehicle to get a fruit reward while another monkey watches. Each time the driver monkey gets a fruit reward, the spectator monkey gets one, too. So they are linked, Nicolelis said during the news conference.”

“To our shock, what we found is that as these animals are interacting … both brains are highly synchronized,” Nicolelis said. “We have, in fact, in some instances, 60 percent of [the firing of neurons] in the motor cortexes of both monkeys [happening] precisely the same time.”

The synchronicity became more precise as the monkey got closer to the fruit reward or, as shown during a second experiment in the study, as the spectator monkey helped control the vehicle remotely, Nicolelis said. The finding suggests that the optimal performance of social tasks, such as gathering food, requires synchronization of brain activity across the brains of all subjects involved — in other words, with everyone being on the same wavelength.

Conversely, Nicolelis said that some antisocial neurological disorders, such as autism, may result in an inability to establish such interbrain synchronization. He said he hopes to test this in his lab with human subjects.

“We’re beginning to see a striking aspect of the brain … that brains are wired for social interactions,” said Dr. Robert Green, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. 

https://www.livescience.com/60937-social-brain-wiring.html

Do you wonder if your brain syncs up with animals too?

 

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