Shouldn’t we just lose the phrase “hardwired”?:
“Our self comes to include the people we feel close to,” Coan said.
In other words, our self-identity is largely based on whom we know and empathize with. Coan and his U.Va. colleagues conducted the study with 22 young adult participants who underwent fMRI scans of their brains during experiments to monitor brain activity while under threat of receiving mild electrical shocks to themselves or to a friend or stranger. The researchers found, as they expected, that regions of the brain responsible for threat response — the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus — became active under threat of shock to the self. In the case of threat of shock to a stranger, the brain in those regions displayed little activity. However when the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant became essentially identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self.
No real surprise there. Should there be a separate system for each degree of kinship, friendship, or acquaintanceship? All these relationships are learned—or not, as the case may be.
This likely is the source of empathy, and part of the evolutionary process, Coan reasons.
Actually, “the evolutionary process” would more likely reward the person who successfully escapes and leaves others to ope with a mess. It is a matter of mind, reason, and morality that humans choose not to behave this way (when they do), not an “evolutionary process” that somehow rewards those who don’t.
The notion behind “hardwired” contributes nothing to the discussion but misdirection. On the other hand, perhaps we should be grateful that this group is not trying to claim that chimpanzees have chimp charities. They seem to have “got” the fact that people have chimp charities, and chimps don’t. And that matters.