A new computational model of how the brain makes altruistic choices is able to predict when a person will act generously in a scenario involving the sacrifice of money. The work, led by California Institute of Technology scientists and, appearing July 15 in the journal Neuron, also helps explain why being generous sometimes feels so difficult.
The reason people act altruistically is well contested among academics. Some argue that people are innately selfish and the only way to override our greedy tendencies is to exercise self-control. Others are more positive, believing that humans naturally find generosity rewarding and that we only act selfishly when we pause to think about it.