Scientists at the University of California believe they have stumbled upon a “compassion pill” that encourages kind and altruistic behavior in users. The results from the initial study are interesting, but the public shouldn’t expect the pill to be available for use just yet. However, if you want results now, there are non-medicinal ways for you to train your brain to be more compassionate.

In the study, published online in the journal Current Biology, 18 women and 17 men were given either the “compassion pill,” containing tolcapone, or a placebo. Neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew which of the two pills each participant took. After taking the pill, volunteers played a simple economic game where they divided money between themselves and an anonymous recipient.

Results showed that participants who were given the tolcapone divided the money with strangers more fairly as opposed to the participants who had taken the placebo.

Tolcapone is an FDA-approved drug used to treat people with Parkinson’s disease. The team also found that the drug affected the brain’s dopamine levels and helped to make users more sensitive to and less tolerant of social inequalities. The researchers believe their study helps to support a previous hypothesis: Social interaction may be affected by changing basic biological systems in the brain.

"We have taken an important step toward learning how our aversion to inequity is influenced by our brain chemistry," first study author Ignacio Sáez said in the press release. "Studies in the past decade have shed light on the neural circuits that govern how we behave in social situations. What we show here is one brain 'switch' we can affect."

While these results open a range of possibilities, for now tolcapone's use as a “compassion pill” remains very much a work in progress. In the meantime, there are ways to increase an individual’s compassion without the use of drugs.

A 2013 study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that behavioral changes also resulted in more altruistic behavior in volunteers. For this study, the researchers asked volunteers to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feeling for people who are suffering. According to the university press release, 30 minutes of compassion training every day for two weeks resulted in a visible increase in compassion for others.

"We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal," Helen Weng, lead author of the study, explained in the press release.

The change in compassion even caused changes in the brain that could be observed and documented. Brain scans of volunteers who had undergone the “compassion training” showed increased activity in regions of the brain involved with empathy and understanding of others.

Whether you are using a drug or changing your behavioral patterns, both studies support the idea that compassion is learned, not innate, and it’s never too late to improve your kindness.

Source: Sáez I, Zhu L, Set E, Kayser A, Hsu M. Dopamine Modulates Egalitarian Behavior in Humans. Current Biology. 2015.