Study: Humans Not “Inherently” Selfish

A new study, conducted by teams from the German University of Munich and the Swiss University of Zurich, suggests that humans do not only prioritize their own interests during decision-making processes. Instead, brain scans reveal that considering others’ preferences also activates reward centers in the brain, indicating a tendency towards altruistic behavior.

According to a report published by “Newsweek,” the research involved 46 participants tasked with assessing their food preferences and the preferences of others. They were then directed to distribute food quantities among themselves and others in a way that benefited everyone, taking individual preferences into account. Throughout the experiment, researchers monitored brain activity using imaging techniques.

The results showed that when participants took others’ preferences into account, the same reward systems in the brain were activated as when considering their own desires. This indicates that humans derive pleasure not only from meeting their own needs but also from making choices that benefit others.

The implications of this research extend beyond the laboratory setting, offering insights into everyday decision-making processes. For example, whether choosing a gift for a friend or selecting a political candidate, individuals often consider the broader impact of their choices on others.


Reward systems in the brain, comprised of various structures, are activated by experiences deemed rewarding or enjoyable, such as enjoying delicious food or using addictive substances. Previous studies, including a study published in 2019 in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, have shown that acts of kindness also stimulate this reward pathway, akin to the pleasure derived from fulfilling basic needs.

While the precise mechanisms underlying the rewarding nature of altruistic behavior remain unclear, researchers expect it may stem from humans‘ inherent social nature or evolutionary adaptations that favor cooperative interactions. Further exploration of these neural processes deepens our understanding of human behavior and social dynamics.

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