Moral behaviour is usually considered the province of philosophers and ethicists, but a new study suggests the way we treat others is actually tied to our brain chemistry.

Researchers from the University College London have found that commonly prescribed antidepressant medication can affect people’s decision-making when choosing between whether to act selfishly or selflessly.

In an experiment involving 175 healthy adults where participants had the power to both administer and receive electric shocks, researchers sought to investigate how much pain people were willing to inflict on either themselves or others in exchange for money.

But it wasn’t just a straight study to determine who would act selfishly and who wouldn’t. Half the group were randomly selected to receive the serotonin-enhancing antidepressant citalopram, while the other half were given a dopamine-booster, levodopa, used in treating Parkinson’s. Each group receiving medication was then compared against a group that received only a placebo.

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