Newsletter  >  Exploring the Mind (June 15, 2007)

Your Brain on Charity


As I was reading the news this week about the Iraq war, the civil war in Palestine, and the bombing in Lebanon, I came across an article that actually brightened my day. It was about the brain (you all know how I'm a sucker for brain science) and how it reacts to giving.

Doing Good Feels Good

If I told you that the feeling that you get from knowing your money is going to a good cause is similar to the feeling you get from food and sex, would you believe me?

Turns out that this is true. And we aren't talking about the prestige and recognition that donating to charity can give a person; the internal payoff comes just from the knowledge that you've given and helped someone.

The Study

In the study, Ulrich Mayr, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, and two economists gave 19 female volunteers $100 each and then tracked their brain activity in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner.

The women were shown their money automatically being transferred from their account to a local food bank.

When the money reached the food bank account, it activated portions of the brain -- the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens -- known for pleasure.

Although the effect was even greater when the people got to choose to give the money away, the effect was still strong in many of the participants when the giving was not voluntary. (I find this extremely surprising, but I'm glad that it's true.) And those study participants who exhibited the effects of this "pure altruism" gave twice as much to the food bank as others did.

Scientists have known for a while that these regions in the brain are activated when there is recognition that something is good for us. The surprising news is that this same area can be activated when there is recognition that something good is being done for others. (I guess this is positive empathy.)

Watch out for how the IRS uses this research in the future to make you feel good about paying your taxes!!!

The study just came out, but you can read more by going to ScienceNow (a great resource):

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Michael Lovitch
Co-Founder, The Hypnosis Network

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