Neuroscience of Altruism • Dr. Abigail Marsh • s01e02

Neuroscience of Altruism • Dr. Abigail Marsh • s01e02

What makes some people more generous than others? And when it comes to altruism, how do we get more of it? In this episode, we learn about how altruism works in the brain, and the clues are surprisingly found in how psychopaths experience fear. Neuroscientist and professor Abigail Marsh will tell us what she’s learned about altruism and the human brain.

About Our Guest

Abigail Marsh is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University. She received her BA in Psychology from Dartmouth College in 1999 and her PhD in Social Psychology at Harvard University in 2004. Before Georgetown, she conducted post-doctoral work at the NIMH from 2004-2008. Her areas of expertise include social and affective neuroscience, particularly understanding emotional processes like empathy and how they relate to altruism, aggression, and psychopathy.

Useful Links

Her book: The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Psychopaths, Altruists, and Everyone In-Between

Published by Dr. Marsh in 2017 “What is responsible for the extremes of generosity and cruelty humans are capable of? By putting psychopathic children and extreme altruists in an fMRI, acclaimed psychologist Abigail Marsh found that the answer lies in how our brain responds to others’ fear. While the brain’s amygdala makes most of us hardwired for good, its variations can explain heroic and psychopathic behavior.”

TED Talk: Abigail Marsh asks an essential question in her TED talk: If humans are evil, Why do we sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to help others even at a cost to ourselves?

Google Scholar: Has over 8500 citations from Abigail Marsh.

Twitter: Follow Dr. Marsh @aa_Marsh

Other Resources

Matthieu Ricard: Points out that empathy on its own can lead to fatigue and burnout.

Michael Krauss: Research shows that increased wealth can actually reduce empathy and altruism.

David DeSteno: People who’ve experienced significant trauma or natural disasters themselves benefit from self-efficacy, which gives them the confidence to know what to do in a situation they are familiar with.

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Written by

Aaron Miller

Aaron Miller

Provo, UT