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Primate Brains Keep a “Tally Chart” for Kind Acts

Researchers at Duke University have found that primate brains record acts of generosity as part of a larger effort toward being social creatures, but do human brains function the same way?

What’s the Latest Development?

Primate brains record acts of kindness and generosity as part of a larger biological effort to be social creatures, say researchers at Duke University. The team of scientists used electrodes to directly record neuronal activity of monkeys performing reward-related tasks in three areas of the brain’s prefrontal cortex that are known to be involved in social decision-making. Matthew Rushworth, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, said of the research: “This is the first time that we have had quite such a complete picture of the neuronal activity underlying a key aspect of social cognition.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Whether human brains function in the same way is an open question given the complexity of our social interactions and variation in what we find rewarding compared with other primates. Still, social decisions and empathy-like processes may have been favored during evolution in primates to allow altruistic behaviour. “This may have evolved originally to promote being nice to family, since they share genes, and later friends, for reciprocal benefits,” says Michael Platt, a neuroscientist from Duke University who is a co-author of the paper.

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