Part Three: right side amygdala is larger

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As we’ve seen, enhancing a compassionate attitude goes beyond a mere outlook; people actually grow more likely to help someone in need even when there’s a cost to themselves.

 

Such intense resonance with others’ suffering has been found in another notable group: extraordinary altruists, people who donated one of their kidneys to a stranger in dire need of a transplant.

 

Brain scans discovered that these compassionate souls have a larger right-side amygdala compared to other people of their age and gender.

 

Since this region activates when we empathize with someone who is suffering, a larger amygdala may confer an unusual ability to feel the pain of others, so motivating people’s altruism—even as extraordinarily as donating a kidney to save someone’s life.

 

The neural changes from loving-kindness practice (the emerging signs of which are found even among beginners) align with those found in the brains of the super-Samaritan kidney donors.

 

The cultivation of a loving concern for other people’s well-being has a surprising and unique benefit: the brain’s circuitry for happiness energizes, along with compassion.

 

Loving-kindness also boosts the connections between the brain’s circuits for joy and happiness and the prefrontal cortex, a zone critical for guiding behavior.
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