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There are many studies done on how the brains of psychopaths and criminals are different from the brains of normal people. e.g. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2273857/Neurologist-discovers-dark-patch-inside-brains-killers-rapists.html and http://bigthink.com/going-mental/the-neurobiology-of-evil

Has there been a study done on the brains of "good" people? For example all the Mother Theresa's in the world.

The reason I'm wondering this, is that if we can figure out what makes people "good" then we can make "good" GM babies in the future.

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To some extent, I agree with you that there is probably more done on the extreme negative end of morality, partly because that (debatably) is seen as more abnormal and society is more interested in fixing it. There has been considerable work on psychopathy and sociopathy, which means that cognitive neuroscience is more willing to treat such people as special cases. I suspect people would be much more reluctant to label people as "good". There is, however, work on how things like generosity (which presumably Mother Theresa and co are very high on) reflect/influence brain activity.

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There was a recent paper in PNAS (Marsh et al., 2014) that examined "extraordinary altruists" who volunteered to donate a kidney to a stranger.

As opposed to psychopaths, who tend to show diminished sensitivity to threatening faces, altruists (vs. healthy controls) showed heightened sensitivity to these faces, which was associated with greater activity and volume in the right amygdala. By contrast, amygdala volume and activity tends to be reduced in psychopathy. So, in a crude way, altruism and psychopathy represent different ends of a spectrum.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the very cool paper. I did more research on this topic. So, psychopaths are the opposite of altruists because their right amygdalas are smaller and less reactive. BUT meditation has been shown to cause the right amygdala to decrease in size and become less reactive. Monks, who meditate all day, would then have right amygdalas that are more similar to psychopaths than to altruists. But surely they are more like the altruists than the psychopaths in terms of how much compassion they have for others. Is there another explanation for what makes "good" people? Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Yvonne Liew Nov 27 '15 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ @YvonneLiew Great question. One the one hand, I think that amygdala structure and function is not the only difference between psychopaths and the general population (e.g., differences in prefrontal function; Yang and Raine, 2009). Secondly, given the various forms of meditation, it's possible that some (like compassion training) actually augment amygdala activity, and others (like mindfulness) reduce it (see Desbordes et al., 2012). $\endgroup$ – mrt Nov 27 '15 at 15:45

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