Just as our brains have mechanisms in place that support generosity, studies in neuroscience have found ways that our brains rein in our generous tendencies.

Here are five that stand out.

  1. Deliberation: We depend on our prefrontal cortex for many things—such as setting goals, creating plans, and making decisions—but work by UCLA researchers Leonardo Christov-Moore and Marco Iacoboni suggests that activity in parts of the prefrontal cortex can dampen our generous impulses in interesting ways.
  2. Lack of "neural empathy": Another recent study by Christov-Moore and Iacoboni found evidence of another way our brains limit generosity: by inhibiting our “neural empathy.” Neural empathy is when we see another person in pain or expressing an emotion and parts of our brain process this experience as if we too were actually feeling the pain or emotion.
  3. Prejudice: How our brains respond to another person’s emotions or pain can be influenced by a host of factors, including how well we know them, and whether or not they share our favorite soccer team, socioeconomic status, religion, and—perhaps most perniciously—race. A number of studies have found that when a person observes another person in pain, there is more activity in the brain regions involved in perceiving this pain when both people share the same ethnicity or race.
  4. No identifiable victim: Empathy depends on a feeling of person-to-person connection. Several studies have found that people are less generous toward multiple or anonymous victims—even the victims of large-scale disasters in dire need of help—than they are toward one specific, identifiable person. This is called the “identifiable victim effect.”
  5. Adolescence: A new study from the Université Laval in Québec, Canada, suggests that teens may have less altruistic motivation to help others compared to adults, in part because their brains respond differently to people in need.

Read the source article at Greater Good