Brain drain

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Stephen McGinty did us all a favour (Perspective, 22 December) by telling us the story of US police officer Lawrence DePrimo and his act of kindness in buying boots for a homeless man.

What struck me, however, was that it was merely the introduction to an article claiming to tell us the “why” of compassion.

In fact, the article described the “how” of compassion, reducing it to the amount of oxytocin in the body. This is an interesting scientific theory – and a good article on it – but I would have thought that using the word “why”, as if hormone flow was the key factor in human kindness, was a strange thing to do at this time of year.

It certainly reflects the spirit of the age, which is to reduce motivation and reality to what can be bottled or measured, but it does not reflect the spirit of Christmas – which the story itself certainly did.

Jock Stein

Dunbar Road

Haddington, East Lothian

IS WHAT “makes us compassionate and kind” caused by the brain’s supply of the hormone oxytocin?

It is suggested that the “warm glow” that comes from doing a good deed emanates from the vagus nerve. Is this plausible given different “patterns of culture,” like a Polynesian society of South-East New Guinea?

Dobu people’s conduct towards each other, according to anthropologists, exemplifies “treachery, mutual ill-will and suspicion”. Acts of compassion and that “warm glow of kindness” are anathema in such a “paranoiac” culture.

Is this complex moral conduct really explicable as a deficiency in the brain’s supply of oxytocin? Arguably in our kind of culture, personal acts of “doing good” are part of a pattern of “moral individualism”.

Ellis Thorpe

Old Chapel Walk

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire