Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Human Nature Redux, Redux

Following up on Jeremy Smith's post (below) about David Brooks's recent column in The New York Times, he and I, along with Greater Good co-editor Dacher Keltner, sent this letter to the Times:

To the Editor:

In his Feb. 18 column, “Human Nature Redux,” David Brooks would have us believe that there's no such thing as "natural human goodness"--that human genes condemn us to lives of evil and nastiness. Yet cutting edge research supports the opposite conclusion: that we are wired to be good.

Consider these empirical findings: When people perform altruistic acts, the same regions of their brain light up as when they receive rewards or experience pleasure; humans are equipped with specialized "mirror neurons" that enable us to empathize with others; we produce the hormone oxytocin, which promotes social bonding, trust, and generosity; and activation of our vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves near the spinal cord, increases compassion and cooperation.

Indeed, contrary to Mr. Brooks's ill-informed column, these scientific findings reveal the deep biological roots of human goodness—which promote the kindness and cooperation vital to human survival and progress.

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, UC Berkeley;
Co-editor, Greater Good magazine

Jason Marsh
Co-editor, Greater Good magazine

Jeremy Adam Smith
Managing Editor, Greater Good magazine

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