In new study, MADLAB co-director maps brain’s path to empathy

Jana Schaich Borg, co-director of the Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Lab at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, is part of a team of researchers that recently released new findings on how the human brain handles decisions of altruism and empathy.

Published in the June 2017 issue of Brain and Behavior, Schaich Borg and others studied how rats would make decisions that could negatively impact them individually while preventing another rat from being harmed. In the research, rats could enter a brightly-lit chamber in order for another to not receive an electrical shock.

“The brain regions that encoded what the rat was choosing to do were the same ones we found in other studies to be involved in human empathy and moral decision making,” Schaich Borg told Duke Today. “It’s fascinating that rats are using the same brain regions that we seem to be using, and it suggests that rats provide a promising avenue for better understanding the way the human brain makes decisions to help others.”

Findings from the study have the potential to help better determine how the bran works by isolating regions one at a time, with impacts on understanding of psychopathy and addiction. In addition to her work with Kenan’s MADLAB, Schaich Borg also serves as an assistant research professor at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

For more information about the study, which was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, the Imitatio Foundation, an Information Initiative at Duke Research Incubator Award, the One Mind Institute (IMHRO) Rising Star Award, the National Institutes of Health (R01MH102638) and the NARSAD Distinguished Scientist Award, visit Duke Today.