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I was doing some research on the web about giving and I ran across this article in the Wall Street journal about giving.  I was so excited to stumble on this article that was written last summer about how “contrary to conventional wisdom that humans are essentially selfish, scientists are finding that the brain is built for generosity”.

Its an interesting article and I included a few excerpts about the research.



— excerpt for Wall Street Journal Saturday Essay: Hard-Wired for Giving

” These days, neuroscientists like Jordan Grafman are investigating specific regions of the human brain that give rise to altruistic behavior. Dr. Grafman, now director of brain injury research at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, became interested in how the brain governs generosity in part out of his work with military veterans who suffered brain trauma. Back in the 1980s, when he was working with returned vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he started to notice something unusual about patients who had sustained damage to their frontal lobes. At first glance, they appeared normal: Their cognitive ability seemed unaffected, and many were able to carry out basic motor tasks with ease. But they suffered from other, more subtle deficits, many of which were apparent only in a nonclinical setting. “The wives said, ‘You’re missing something,’ ” Dr. Grafman remembers. In social situations, the men floundered, acting as if they didn’t care what other people had to say.

In the mid-2000s, while working at the National Institutes of Health, he began to investigate where empathy and generosity originated in the brain. The advent of fMRI scanning, which highlights blood flow in different parts of the brain, made it much easier to see which parts of the brain were engaged as people carried out various tasks. To see if this tool could lend insight into the motivations behind giving behavior, Dr. Grafman and his colleagues recruited 19 study subjects, placed each of them inside the fMRI scanner, and presented them with charities from a long list. For each charity, they could choose to donate money, refuse to donate money, or add money to a separate reward account that they could take home at the end of the study. (In some cases, it was especially costly for subjects to make a donation decision, because doing so required them to draw from their own reward accounts.)

While analyzing the study’s results, Dr. Grafman’s colleague Jorge Moll came up to him and said, “You’re not going to believe this.” The scans revealed that when people made the decision to donate to what they felt was a worthy organization, parts of the midbrain lit up—the same region that controls cravings for food and sex, and the same region that became active when the subjects added money to their personal reward accounts.

Gradually, Dr. Grafman began to realize how this finding made sense. While we often tend to think of altruism as a kind of sophisticated moral capacity we use to squelch our urges to dominate others, this new evidence suggests that giving is actually inherently rewarding: The brain churns out a pleasurable response when we engage in it.

But the subjects’ high degree of midbrain activation wasn’t the study’s only interesting finding. Dr. Grafman found that the subgenual area—a gumdrop-size region near the midpoint of the brain, part of the frontal lobes—was also strongly active when his study subjects made the decision to give to charity. The area contains lots of receptors for oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social bonding. The finding suggests that altruism and social relationships are intimately connected—in part, it may be our reliance on the benefits of strong interpersonal connections that motivates us to behave unselfishly.”

For more of the article:  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324009304579041231971683854