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The joy of giving, and the Cognitive and Emotional Health Project: The Healthy Brain

Great article in this week’s The Economist on The joy of giving: Donating to charity rewards the brain. Some quotes:

“Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, wanted to find the neural basis for unselfish acts. They decided to peek into the brains of 19 volunteers who were choosing whether to give money to charity, or keep it for themselves. To do so, they used a standard technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can map the activity of the various parts of the brain. The results were reported in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”


“the researchers were able to examine what went on inside each person’s head as they made decisions based on moral beliefs. They found that the part of the brain that was active when a person donated happened to be the brain’s reward centre—the mesolimbic pathway, to give it its proper name—responsible for doling out the dopamine-mediated euphoria associated with sex, money, food and drugs. Thus the warm glow that accompanies charitable giving has a physiological basis.”

“Donating also engaged the part of the brain that plays a role in the bonding behaviour between mother and child, and in romantic love. This involves oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and co-operation.”

You may wonder why the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is investigating this (hmm, is giving to charity a Neurological Disorder?), but the Institute is part of a partnership called Cognitive and Emotional Health Project: The Healthy Brain, among the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, that aims to “assess the state of epidemiologic research on demographic, social and biologic determinants of cognitive and emotional health in aging populations, and the pathways by which cognitive and emotional health may reciprocally influence each other. As a first step, a comprehensive review of measures that have been (or could be) used in epidemiologic research was undertaken. Measures in four domains are reviewed: (1) cognitive health, (2) emotional health, (3) demographic/social factors, and (4) biomedical/physiologic factors.”

Proven. Another muscle to train in a good Brain and Mind Fitness Program. Giving to charities we care about, and doing unselfish acts.

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4 Responses

  1. Bill George says:

    “Giving to charities we care about, and doing unselfish acts.”

    The unselfish act of giving to others in order to experience that “warm glow” caused by dopamine can be considered selfish. Paradoxical huh?

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