Love can make us do crazy things. It often encourages us to behave in the opposite way, for example by putting the welfare of our loved ones above ours.
Such altruism for centuries has confused and intrigued scientists. A new study from UC Santa Barbara explores how genetics and brain activity of an individual are tied up with altruistic behavior directed at romantic partners. The team found that pathways associated with binding to other animals appear in humans and may be generally included in altruism. The results appear in the journal Behavioral neuroscience.
Scientists currently consider altruism evolving into social species as a strategy for survival of cousins. The idea is that genes that promote altruism persist, perhaps not through individual children, but through their relatives who carry similar genetics. In this way, providing for your relatives ensures that some of your genes are transmitted.
For people, along with our complex social systems, this fundamental assumption takes on new dimensions. "It would be reasonable for people to be invested in the benefit of their partners because they want to live a long, happy and healthy life together," said Bianca Acevedo, a scholar at UC Santa Barbara, Institute for Neuroscience, Author. "And in the case of a bride, some of them will want to have children, so be selfless in their partner's investment in their offspring."
Altruism is an important aspect of joining couples, but according to Acevedu, he is not much questioned – especially when compared to the relationship between parents and their children, where altruism is critical. "The answer to a child in a selfless manner is so important part of worry," Acevedo said.
Phenomena such as love and altruism include many chemistry. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that has taken popular consciousness as a "pounding hormone". And while involved in various processes, his role in trust, empathy and connectivity is well established. The less known hormone is vasopressin, which is also linked by the scientists with the behavior of pairing.
Aceved's team engaged couples brides to explore how genetics and brain activity are associated with the empathy they show toward a romantic partner. The team tested each participant for two genetic variants, one included in the susceptibility of oxytocin, and another on the susceptibility of vasopressin. The researchers then responded to a standardized questionnaire that questioned their feelings toward their partner and other individuals. This gave them a measure of the general level of empathy and altruism of each person to their partner.
Then the participants entered the functional magnetic resonance imaging engine (fMRI). Although similar to standard MRI machines, doctors use soft tissue imaging, fMRI can monitor changes associated with blood flow. This allows researchers to see how different brain parts are triggered in response to different types of stimuli. In this case, participants are presented with pictures of their romantic partners, friends and aliens with different facial expressions. The researchers explained what the person in the picture feels and why, to trigger an emotional response.
When the participants felt a strong sense of sympathy with the person in the picture, brain regions associated with emotions and emotional memory illuminated. "Almost as if the brain responds in a way that signals," This is important, pay attention, "Acevedo said.
These areas of the brain – such as amygdala and ventral palidum – have particularly thick concentrations of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, which further implies these neurotransmitters in empathy and altruism. Moreover, individuals with genetic variations that made them more sensitive to these hormones showed more powerful emotional reactions.
The researchers also found that the areas of the brain that were specifically activated in response to the partner's face were the same areas that were critical to other animals during the pairing and binding studies. It suggests that our brains have paths dedicated to behaviors especially paths that can be quite old. However, some of these linkages have shown activity even when the participants saw the faces of aliens, providing evidence of the intricate conceptions of empathy and altruism in the game of humans.
Acevedo continues to explore empathy, altruism and care in different types of pairs. She is currently exploring how mind and body activities such as yoga affect how individuals react to partners who are struggling with memory problems.
"It's important to think about these systems and such behavior outside of romance," Acevedo said. "When people are thinking about relationships, they think romantic love is really important, but we have forgotten some other basic and important reasons why people are together, as they care about each other.
"In addition to romantic love, we live long lives together. Many of us together raise children or take care of each other in their age," Acevedo continued. "Altruism is deeply rooted in our evolutionary, neural, and genetic framework."