Larger, More Active Amygdalas, Autism, and Altruism

Discover magazine reports that extreme altruists have more active and larger amygdalas. These people are more sensitive to “fearful faces.” This heightened empathy drives their altrusim.

We also happen to know that people with autism also have more active and larger amygdalas. While some researchers, like Simon Baron-Cohen argue that people with autism are less empathetic, the research reported by Discover would seem to argue that it is not that autistic people are less empathetic, but that they are more so — so much more so that avoiding faces becomes necessary to avoid being overwhelmed.

Does this imply autistic people are necessarily more altruistic? Not necessarily. At least, not from a neurotypical person’s perspective. I do suspect, though, that perhaps people on the spectrum are more likely to be effective altruists, an idea which I find extremely attractive. Why might I think that autistics might be more likely to be effective altruists? Because we tend to be more hyper-rational and research-oriented. Thus, if and when we are altruistic, we will be more likely to embrace the effective altruism approach.

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