Why our brain tries to follow the ‘Golden Rule’

March 23rd, 2008 - 3:12 pm ICT by admin  

New York, March 23 (IANS) Wesley Autrey, a black construction worker, a Navy veteran and 55-year-old father of two, didn’t know the young man standing beside him. But when the man had a seizure on the subway platform and toppled onto the tracks, Autrey jumped after him and shielded him with his body as a train bore down on them. Autrey could have died, so why did he put his life on the line - literally - to save this complete stranger?

Donald Pfaff thinks he has the answer.

The author of a new book “The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule”, says our brains are hardwired to do unto others as we would have them do to us. Individual acts of aggression and evil occur when this circuitry jams, ScienceDaily reported.

“If it’s really true that all religions have this ethical principle, across continents and across centuries, then it is more likely to have a hardwired scientific basis than if it was just a neighbourhood custom,” says Pfaff of Rockefeller University.

In his book, Pfaff proposes a theory that explains how people manage to behave well when they do, and under what conditions they deviate from good behaviour.

He describes how memories of fear, as well as various brain hormones, can play a vital role in whether people choose to act ethically or violently toward others. One’s behaviour is a balance, he says, between “pro-social” and “anti-social” traits - a balance shaped by early life experiences.

“You have some people who are pro-social, who face the world with a smile and are uniformly nice to other people,” said Pfaff.

“Others face the world with a snarl and are routinely aggressive and thoughtless. Most of us are a balance - we are able to treat each other almost all the time in a civil and thoughtful way.” But nobody’s perfect, he adds.

“Even those in the pro-social group have cheated on their taxes.”

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