Stress hormone reduces altruistic behavior in empathetic people

Stress hormone reduces altruistic behavior in empathetic people

The stress hormone cortisol reduces altruistic behavior and alters activity in brain regions linked to social decision making—but only in people who are better at imagining others’ mental states, according to new research published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

In a study from Universität Hamburg, participants decided how much money to donate to a selection of charities before and after completing a stressful public-speaking task while researchers monitored their brain activity with fMRI. To simulate the personal cost of making an altruistic decision, the participants received a portion of the money they did not donate. Before the stressful task, people with higher mentalizing ability, or the ability to imagine others’ mental states, donated more money than people with low mentalizing ability.

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