By Kelly Servick
Originally published July 2, 2015
Here is an excerpt:
The researchers could then calculate the “exchange rate between money and pain”—how much extra cash a person must be paid to accept one additional shock. In previous research, Crockett’s team learned that the exchange rate varies depending on who gets hurt. On average, people are more reluctant to profit from someone else’s pain than their own—a phenomenon the researchers call “hyperaltruism.”
In the new study, the scientists tested whether drugs can shift that pain-to-money exchange rate. A few hours before the test, they gave the subjects either a placebo pill or one of two drugs: the serotonin-enhancing antidepressant drug citalopram or the Parkinson’s treatment levodopa, which increases dopamine levels.
On average, people receiving the placebo were willing to forfeit about 55 cents per shock to avoid harming themselves, and 69 cents to avoid harming others. Those amounts nearly doubled in people who took citalopram: They were generally more averse to causing harm, but still preferred profiting from their own pain over another’s, Crockett’s team reports online today in Current Biology. Levodopa had a different effect: It seemed to make people just as willing to shock others as themselves for profit.
The entire article is here.