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Kindness Hardwired in Certain People, Brain Study Suggests

Update Date: Sep 23, 2014 05:04 PM EDT

Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, MLK, Mandela and Mother Teresa might have been born kind, according to scientists.

New brain imaging research suggests that altruism isn't conscious. Instead, some people are hardwired to love others more than themselves.

After comparing the brains of altruistic and selfish people, researchers found that the brain region most commonly linked to emotion is significantly larger in selfless people. Researchers speculate that possessing a larger brain region that processes emotion could help improve an individual's ability to accurately identify the needs of others.

Lead researcher Professor Abigail Marsh said her study was inspired by Harold Mintz, who anonymously gave away his kidney to a stranger ten years ago.

Marsh said the latest findings suggest that Mintz act of "extraordinary" kindness was produced by nature rather than by nurture, according to Daily Mail.

Marsh and her team at Georgetown College compared the MRI brain scans of 19 altruistic kidney donors to 20 people who had never donated an organ. Participants were subjected to fearful, angry or neural expressions during MRI scans.

"The results of brain scans and behavioral testing suggests that these donors have some structural and functional brain differences that may make them more sensitive, on average, to other people's distress," Marsh said, according to Medical Daily.

Organ donors showed greater brain activity in the right amygdala while viewing fearful expressions than their more selfish counterparts.  Furthermore, organ donors recognized fearful facial expressions more accurately than control participants.

"The brain scans revealed that the right amygdala volume of altruists is larger than that of non-altruists," Marsh said in a university release. "The findings suggest that individual differences in altruism may have an underlying neural basis."

Researchers said the latest findings support previous studies showing that psychopaths, or people who are incapable of empathizing with others, had smaller and less responsive amygdalas.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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