Help A Friend Out?

Written on |

Help A Friend Out?

Ever wonder what causes us to help – or not to help – someone in distress? New research from the Tel Aviv University indicates that the brain activity that gives rise to one’s motivation to help only occurs when the “other” who is in distress is a member of one’s own group. Interestingly, helping a friend in distress appears to relate more to a sense of group belonging and identity and less to expressing empathy for another’s difficulty and suffering, suggesting that pro-social behavior should be promoted through the reinforcement of a sense of belonging, more than a sense of empathy.

Selective Aid

Previous findings showed that rats do demonstrate empathy for their peers. Rescuing them from trouble and reaching out to help is as rewarding to them as eating chocolate. It was subsequently found that while rats do love to help their peers, they only help members of their own group and not rats from other groups.

In the current study, the research team decided to examine what change in the brain causes this behavioral difference that leads the rats to only help members of the same group. How did they do that? Dr. Inbal Ben Ami Bartal of The School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience at the Tel Aviv University explains that during the course of the study, researchers used phosphoric markings to mark those neurons in the rats’ brains that were active when the rats were in the presence of the trapped rats. Similarly, the researchers recorded their cerebral activity by means of a calcium signal that is released when neurons are active.

Cultivating A Sense of Belonging

Their findings are fascinating: Upon seeing the trapped rat, a system in the brain, similar to that seen in humans when they report feeling empathy, was activated. However, only when the rats discerned that it was a rat of their own breed did the researchers observe “helpful behavior” and action by the brain’s “reward system,” meaning – activation of a neural network that inspires motivation to perform acts that contribute to survival. When the trapped rat is from another, unfamiliar breed, the rats do not help it and the brain’s reward system does not activate. Thus, it is a sense of belonging which is the dominant factor that affects social solidarity, and not empathy for the suffering and distress of others.

“This research shows that the reward system has an important function in helping behavior and if we want to increase the likelihood of pro-social behavior, we must reinforce a sense of belonging more than a sense of empathy,” concludes Dr. Ben Ami Bartal.

The team is currently examining what happens in the brains of rats from different groups over the course of two weeks during which they live together and become friends, and how artificial brain stimulation can be utilized to make the rats show empathy for the plight of rats from another breed.

TAU research team: Dr. Inbal Ben Ami Bartal, Tamar Spectre, Estherina Trachtenberg, and Dr. Einat Bigelman (not in the photo: Keren Ruzal and Ben Kantor)

The study was led by Dr. Inbal Ben Ami Bartal of The School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience at the Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Prof. Daniela Kaufer of the University of California and Berkeley as well as additional researchers from Stanford University and the University of Toronto. The study was published in the prestigious journal, eLife.

related posts

Can’t Multitask Anymore?

October 6, 2021

Why Do We Squabble Over The AC?

October 5, 2021

What happens in your brain when you start to help someone in distress?

September 29, 2021

Using ‘Good’ Bacteria to Fight ‘Bad’ Bacteria

September 29, 2021

Recruiting ‘Fighting Cells’ to Destroy Tumors

September 14, 2021

TAU Team Reverses Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

September 10, 2021

Nicotine Testing of Children Curbs Parents’ Smoking

September 5, 2021

The Silent Prophets

August 31, 2021

Want to Fall in Love? Step Outside in The Sun

August 30, 2021

First 3D-bioprinting of entire active tumor

August 18, 2021

New Warning Sign for Breast Cancer

August 6, 2021

COVID-19 Immunity Varies Among Genders and Age Groups

July 25, 2021

New study found differences between women and men in the level of COVID-19 antibodies

July 15, 2021

A world first: Technology that restores the sense of touch in nerves damaged as a result of amputation or injury

July 15, 2021

New nanotech from TAU produces “healthy” electric current from the human body itself

July 9, 2021

Want to Live a Long Life? Consider Investing in Your Marriage.

July 2, 2021

A world first: Targeted delivery of therapeutic RNAs only to cancer cells, with no harm caused to healthy cells

June 30, 2021

Combating Antibiotic Resistance

June 22, 2021

Diamonds in the Rough

June 3, 2021

How Will We Brave the Post-COVID Era?

May 31, 2021

Are We Getting to the Root of Cancer?

May 3, 2021

Optical Technology Generates Immediate Melanoma Diagnosis

April 27, 2021

Gut Healing

April 25, 2021

Could Your Smartphone Be Damaging Your Teeth?

April 4, 2021

The Quest for A Lifesaving Cure

March 16, 2021

A Healthier Alternative to Antibiotics

February 24, 2021

Children with Autism during Lockdown: Serious Implications for Behavior and Development

February 22, 2021

Cancer Breakthrough: Cells’ Uniqueness is Also Weakness

January 29, 2021

TAU Scientists Develop Innovative Therapy to Prevent Deafness

December 28, 2020

Two TAU Professors Win 2020 Nature Mentoring Award

December 28, 2020

Lack of Teacher Support during Pandemic Causes Acute Emotional Harm

December 4, 2020

New Discovery: Development of the Inner Ear in Embryos is Similar to Crystal Formation

November 26, 2020

In First, Aging Stopped in Humans: TAU Co-Study

November 23, 2020

TAU developed genome editing system destroys cancer cells

November 20, 2020

TAU Co-Study: “Green Revolution” Decreased Infant Mortality

November 17, 2020

Study: Women Suffer More from COVID-related Orofacial Pain

November 12, 2020

Global First: Center for Combating Pandemics

October 22, 2020

TAU Researchers Discover Antibody Combo that Fights COVID-19

October 12, 2020

Researchers Identified the Genetic Causes of Inherited Hearing Loss in the Jewish Population of Israel

September 30, 2020

Targeting Melanoma

September 9, 2020

TAU Inaugurates Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research

September 8, 2020

Physical exercise can help improve both physical and mental health

August 31, 2020

New school for Biomedicine and Cancer Research at Tel Aviv University

August 13, 2020

An Experimental Drug for Alzheimer’s May Help Children with Autism

August 5, 2020

TAU Study: Stimulating Immune System Prevents Post-Surgery Metastasis

July 27, 2020

TAU Researcher Fights Epidemics Both Viral and Virtual

July 23, 2020

TAU study: Oxygen therapy improves cognitive function in seniors

July 16, 2020

TAU-led Team Destroys Cancer Cells with Ultrasound

July 9, 2020

New nanomedicines for mRNA therapeutics in breast cancer and heart failure

July 6, 2020

3D printed heart used to test life-saving drugs

June 29, 2020
Ontario and Western Canada

3130 Bathurst Street, Suite, 214, Toronto, ON | M6A 2A1 
Phone: 416.787.9930 | Toll Free: 833.32.CFTAU (22328)
Email: toronto@cftau.ca

Ottawa, Quebec and Atlantic Canada

6900 Boulevard Décarie, Suite 3480, Montreal, QC | H3X 2T8
Phone: 514.344.3417
Email: montreal@cftau.ca


© CFTAU  | all rights reserved
Charitable registration: 124035643RR0001

TO TOP