The Wall Street Journal published “The Psychopath, the Altruist and the Rest of Us” on 4-21-16. This article reviews neurological research about the brain differences between psychopaths and “extreme altruists,” such as people who donate a kidney to strangers. It references the research of the neuropsychologist Abigail Marsh, Ph.D., “Neural and cognitive characteristics of extraordinary altruists,” and a book about extreme altruists, “Strangers Drowning.”

The research focus on brain parts that regulate emotion and empathy, or lack of these feelings, particularly the amygdala.  Researchers have found significant structural differences, with psychopaths having smaller, and less active, amygdalae and the opposite findings for extreme altruists.  The author concludes, “The psychopath can’t seem to feel anyone’s needs except his own. The extreme altruist feels everybody’s needs. The rest of us live, often uneasily and guiltily, somewhere in the middle.”

mhconcierge’s take: current research on the effects of meditation finds that regular meditation impacts the size and functioning of the amygdala, and this may help regular meditators increase their empathy resources. 

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