To help others is good for health. But not in every case

According to research by the University of Pittsburgh (Unirsity of Pittsburgh), helping others activates the brain areas associated with parental care. The observed activity of the brain have also shown that targeted support for specific people who need it, can be extremely beneficial to our health. The study is published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

It is known that prosocial behavior (voluntary helping others) has a positive effect not only on the recipient but someone who helps. The provision of support helps to establish interaction between social ties and health, however, the neural mechanisms are unknown, the authors write.

The study was to understand does support changes in the response of the brain. Namely, helping a specific person, or offering support in an inappropriate way, for example by donating to charity. For this, the researchers Tristen K. Inagaki (Tristen K. Inagaki) and Lauren P. Ross (Lauren P. Ross) conducted two experiments.

In the first experiment, 45 people got the chance to win the award:

  • for someone who was near and needed the money (targeted support),
  • donate to charity (non-targeted support),
  • for yourself.

Participants felt greater social ownership and were confident that their efforts are more effective in providing targeted support.

To monitor areas of the brain participants used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Regardless of targeted or non-targeted was support for increased activity in brain areas responsible for parental care, striatum (PT) and septal region (SR). Higher activation FROM the target in the support is also correlated with a decrease in activity in the amygdala a tiny structure of the brain associated with reactions to fear and stress.

In the second experiment, the researchers analyzed data from 382 participants self-reports about their behaviour when targeted (target) and non-earmarked support. Again, MRI showed lower brain activity in the amygdala in those who reported targeted forms of support.

People develop social relationships and receive the benefits when they act for the benefit of others, the authors of the study. The results focus on the appropriate neural pathways to show exceptional benefits from the provision of targeted support.

There are a number of exceptions in which the targeted social support will not be profitable and useful, for example, if a person for a long time forced to take care of a sick family member. Studies have shown that long-term care can sometimes lead to chronic stress, increased risk of depression and other harmful health effects.

Valeria SEMA