health

Lack compassion? There's a pill for that.

Image via iStock.

I’d like to think I’m a pretty compassionate person. I’m regularly shocked into action by sad stories on the news, try to help those who are less fortunate than me whenever I can, and will always be there with wine, chocolates and a stack of cheesy films for a friend in need.

But we all know at least one person who seems totally unaffected by anyone’s problems outside their own.

According to science however, it’s not entirely their fault – it’s down to their brain chemistry. The good news? There could soon be a pill to fix it.

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At least that’s what a new study published in the journal Current Biology suggests.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, San Francisco, examined 35 participants to try and figure out if it was possible to manipulate a brain chemical to make people more compassionate.

It was.

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Each participant visited the lab twice and was randomly given either a pill that prolongs the effects of dopamine (which is involved in reward and satisfaction responses in the brain), or a placebo.

Medication for binge eating disorder research.
In the double-blind test, participants were randomly given the dopamine drug or a placebo. Image via iStock.

They were then asked to divide money between themselves and a stranger.

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Looking at the results, researchers discovered that when the participants were given the dopamine drug, they were more sensitive to social inequality, and in turn were more likely to share the money fairly compared with when they took the placebo.

Participants on the dopamine drug were more likely to share the money equally. Image via iStock.

While the results probably aren't going to bring about world peace just yet, they do suggest that behaviour relating to social interaction can be manipulated.

"We generally think of fair-mindedness as a stable characteristic, part of one's personality," co-principal investigator at UC Berkeley Ming Hsu says.

"Our study does not reject this notion, but it does show how that trait can be systematically affected by targeting specific neurochemical pathways in the human brain."

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Combining these new findings with previous research into how economic inequity is evaluated in areas of the brain affected by dopamine, the study brings researchers closer to pinpointing how positive social behaviours such as fairness are initiated in the brain.

And if that just means a few more people donating a little more money or time to help those in need, we think that is a good thing.

Check out some other pills we think science should hurry up and invent...

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