Jorge Molls’ study on Neurology and Group Identity

A study was done recently at the D’Or Institute for Research and Development in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. In the study, 27 fans of the four largest, local Brazilian teams were brought to the institute and asked to answer a simple question: How would you donate your money? As part of the study, subjects asked to pick one of three choices:

Donate the money to anonymous fans of their favorite team

Donate the money to an anonymous person who identified with a team not their favorite

Do not donate the money, and instead keep it for yourself.

The goal of the study was to measure the altruism of people towards a group they considered themselves a part of, versus altruism towards a group they considered foreign to them. Group identity is one of the social aspects that define humanity, and while present in other animal societies, such as in a pack of wolves or a pride of lions, part of being human is having an incredibly refined sense of group identity, crafted by numerous factors. When given this option, the subjects were put into a device known as a functional Magnetic Resonance (fMR) scanner, and their brains were observed for any activity when they made their choice. While people have known that humanity has a very sophisticated sense of group identity, never before has it been able to be seen physically occur in the brain. The head of the research project, Jorge Molls, states “Attachment to cultural groups is a unique property of humans, fundamental for our survival, which, in turn, makes the investigation of its neural basis very critical.”

Molls is not only the head of this particular research project, but is also head of the entire D’Or Institute for Research and Development. Over his career, Molls has accumulate an impressive resume. He is an elected member of both the International Neuroethics Society and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. He is also the head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit and Neuroinformatics at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education. Also, Molls is a recipient of the D’Or Institute for Research & Education Awards and Research Fellow NIH award 3 times, from 2004 to 2007.