Sophisticated brain scanning techniques have found that humans respond by activating areas associated with the primitive emotions of sex, fear and anger as well as our capability for abstract thought.
The findings, to be published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, represent a significant incursion into territory once regarded as the domain of religion and philosophy.
Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California in San Diego, said: “Our research suggests there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom’s most universal traits.” Jeste and Thomas Meeks, his colleague, found that pondering a simple situation calling for altruism activated the medial prefrontal cortex, an area linked to intelligence and learning. However, when faced with a difficult moral judgment, the brain activated other areas including those connected with both rational thought and primitive emotions.
Meek said: “Several brain regions appear to be involved in different components of wisdom. It seems to involve a balance between more primitive brain regions, like the limbic system, and the newest ones, such as the prefrontal cortex.”
Such research has been made possible by the increasing sophistication of brain scanning techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI.
These allow researchers to see which parts of the brain become active when people undertake mental tasks.
Recently, studies at UC San Diego and elsewhere have focused on parts of the brain involved in qualities such as empathy, compassion, emotional stability, self-understanding and tolerance – widely regarded as components of wisdom.
I had all of my wisdom extracted.