"Empathy Pill" Makes People Act More Fairly with Money

Researchers think they may have found a way to make people more empathetic. Perhaps one day in the future we'll be able to prescribe "kindness" pills.

"Empathy Pill" Makes People Act More Fairly with Money

What if there was a way to turn all the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world into kind, empathetic people? Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, think it may be possible, some day.


With a little tweak in brain chemistry, researchers wrote in their paper, published in Current Biology, that they were able to make participants more generous. Just by dosing them with some dopamine.

The study was quite small, only 35 participants, but the test raises some questions that may help aid in future research. The participants were split into two groups, one that would receive a placebo and the other would take a pill containing tolcapone. The drug is typically used for Parkinson's patients to help prolong the effects of dopamine in the brain, and dopamine is a feel-good “reward” hormone. Neither group was aware of which pill they had taken.

The participants were then asked to take part in an “economic game” where the volunteers distributed wealth amongst themselves and a group of anonymous individuals. EurekAlert! writes, “After receiving tolcapone, participants divided the money with the strangers in a fairer, more egalitarian way than after receiving the placebo.”

One of the co-authors commented on the results, saying:

“We typically think of fair-mindedness as a stable characteristic, part of one’s personality. Our study doesn’t reject this notion, but it does show how that trait can be systematically affected by targeting specific neurochemical pathways in the human brain.”

The question will be if in the future we'll be able to tap into these traits and prescribe them to people in the future.

In his interview with Big Think, Nicholas Kristof from The New York Times, talked about how good storytelling can help turn people on to issues. Rather than highlighting the plight of a million people, tell readers a story about one — they're more likely to connect.

COVID-19 amplified America’s devastating health gap. Can we bridge it?

The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.

Willie Mae Daniels makes melted cheese sandwiches with her granddaughter, Karyah Davis, 6, after being laid off from her job as a food service cashier at the University of Miami on March 17, 2020.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
  • Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
  • To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
Keep reading Show less

Study: Medieval arrows were as damaging as gunshots

A study by UK archaeologists finds that longbows caused horrific injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.

Injury to the right tibia caused by a puncture wound.

Credit: Oliver Creighton/University of Exeter
Surprising Science
  • UK archaeologists discover medieval longbows caused injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
  • The damage was caused by the arrows spinning clockwise.
  • No longbows from medieval times survived until our times.
Keep reading Show less

Skyborne whales: The rise (and fall) of the airship

Can passenger airships make a triumphantly 'green' comeback?

R. Humphrey/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.

Keep reading Show less

Vegans are more likely to suffer broken bones, study finds

Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.

Credit: Jukov studi via Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
  • Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
  • It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast