How does your amygdala feel about taxes?

My first instinct when I saw this article linking a desire for economic equality with an increased likelihood of depression was to be snarky. In the context of a billionaire narcissist running a government full of people trying to give more to those who already have the most, you couldn’t get more of a no duh statement than this:

A new study published in Nature Human Behavior suggests that those who value economic equity, at their brain’s core, are more likely to be depressed. Those who prefer everything for themselves tend to be happier.

But it’s always good to check your instincts and, you know, actually read an article before sharing it. The key phrase in this sentence is “at their brain’s core.” The study isn’t talking about an understandable emotional reaction to an unfair social environment. It’s probing differences in automatic responses deep in the brain, namely, that some people experience a stress response in the “evolutionarily ancient” amygdala when money is distributed unequally, even when they are the benefactors of that inequality. And those people are more likely to experience long-term feelings of depression.

What an unfair situation. The very people whose natural empathy would make them strong, generous leaders are likely to be held back by a disease that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. But the article provides hope. First, there’s the satisfying statistic that an estimated 60 percent of people fall into this “prosocial” category, so the majority of us are walking around with brains longing for a more economically equal society. Second, the authors of the study noted that the ancient, automatic responses of the amygdala are regulated by the higher-order prefrontal cortex, over which we have much more control. Prosocial people can learn to dampen the effects of the depression that naturally comes along with their empathy, without losing that empathy itself. I hope a lot of them do, and then get their sad, lovely minds into office.

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