Your brain is built for generosity.
That’s the conclusion of an article in the August 31 edition of The Wall Street Journal, “Hard Wired for Giving” by Elizabeth Svoboda. This article provides some new information on why individuals decide to contribute their time, talent and money to non-profit organizations.
Over the past 10-15 years, doctors at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have studied where empathy and generosity originated in the human brain. They used fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanning to identify where blood flowed in the brain as study participants were doing different tasks.
The scientists created a simple experiment on 19 participants. Each subject was given a long list of charities and an amount of money. For each charity they could choose to donate some of the money, refuse to donate money or add money to a separate reward account that they could take home at the end of the study.
When these participants chose to donate money to what they felt was a worthy organization, or they added money to their own accounts, the doctors determined that high rates of blood flow occurred to the same areas of the mid-brain that control food and sex cravings. Donating money was a pleasurable experience for them.
In another set of experiments, the subject was given $100 in cash and was told to make donations ranging from $15-$45 to local charities. Whatever amount the subject had left over he or she could keep. The donations were also deemed “voluntary” where the subject had control over which charity to fund at what amount, or “involuntary” where the computer would inform the subject the amount and recipient of the donation. The findings of this experiment were interesting:
- People were more likely to help the charity when the amount of the donation was low.
- When a subject decided to voluntarily make a donation, the area of the brain associated with processing unexpected rewards (the nucleus accumbens) lit up. The nucleus accumbens contains the neurons that release dopamine, the chemical that creates a sense of pleasure.
So if you are feeling down one day, make a small gift to a local charity. It might help your mood while you help improve your community or solve a problem.
~ Allyn Hughes, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, CAP® — Brooks, Hughes & Jones – Partners in Wealth Management – Tacoma, WA