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Brain region associated with selfishness

In three women, damage to basolateral amygdala prompted unusual generosity

People with damage to a specific part of the brain entrusted unexpectedly large amounts of money to complete strangers. In an investment game played in the lab, three women with damage to a small part of the brain called the basolateral amygdala handed over nearly twice as much money as healthy people.

These women didn’t expect to make a bunch of money back, an international team of researchers reports online the week of January 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Nor did they think the person they invested with was particularly trustworthy. When asked why they would invest so generously, the volunteers couldn’t provide an answer.

The results suggest that normally, the basolateral amygdala enables selfishness — putting the squeeze on generosity.

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