The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, led by Georgia State University, has received a $3.4 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to investigate the neurobiology behind the evolution of positive emotions and prosocial behaviors, such as empathy, compassion and cooperation.
Such insight is fundamental to understanding how complex human emotions and social interactions are expressed.
“This funding from the Templeton Foundation represents one of the largest single investments into research on how the human brain evolved the ability to express these positive attributes and emotions,” said Dr. Elliott Albers, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN), a consortium of scientists from seven Atlanta higher education institutions.
The research will build on advances that have been made in the understanding of the neural basis of positive emotions and will employ state-of-the-art new technologies to investigate the neural mechanisms responsible for prosocial capabilities in the human brain.
“This funding will support the longstanding inter-institutional, multidisciplinary research program of the CBN,” said Michael Cassidy, president of the Georgia Research Alliance, “and the ability to obtain such funding is indicative of the strength of Georgia research universities in the area of brain research.”
The project will be a collaborative endeavor, involving a team of researchers from Georgia State, Emory University, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Zoo Atlanta. The project’s primary goal will be to determine if human forms of prosocial emotion and behavior, which are controlled by neural circuits in the brain, are unique to humans or are present in other nonhuman primates.
By comparing the structure and function of the neural mechanisms regulating prosocial behavior in human and nonhuman primates, it will be possible to define the nature and evolutionary development of characteristics such as empathy, compassion and cooperation.
The research team will work to determine if oxytocin, a chemical signal in the brain, acts uniquely within the human brain to aid human prosocial emotion and behavior or if it acts similarly in nonhuman primates as well.
The funding will support an exhibit at Zoo Atlanta designed to develop wider public awareness of neuroscience research. The interactive exhibit will include educational activities that will allow zoo visitors to learn more about emotional and behavioral similarities and differences between humans and nonhuman primates.
“We are excited about the opportunity to continue our longstanding relationship with CBN scientists to bring the most recent discoveries about the brain and behavior to zoo visitors,” said Dr. Dwight Lawson, deputy director of Zoo Atlanta.
The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience was established in 1999 with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Georgia Research Alliance.