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“Tis better to give than receive”: oxytocin and dopamine

Jeffrey Gonce, a Psychology teacher at Red Land High School (West Shore School District, PA) just asked his students to “complete a project describing a recent brain (or genetic) study that affects behavior.”  The students could opt to post their articles online, and Jeffrey was kind enough to send us a link to read the results.

We enjoyed the overall level of the essays (you can read them all here), and truly enjoyed reading a beautiful, well-researched and better written essay by Alexandra M, 15. Which, incidentally, quotes from one of our favourite popular science books on the brain, John Ratey’s A User’s Guide to the Brain.

Enjoy!

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March 2, 2007

Alexandra M

It’s Christmas morning, and your brother rushes downstairs to see what “Santa” brought him. The morning goes by in a flurry of colorful wrapping paper and stringy ribbons until all that’s left is a big present in the center of your brother’s lap. The present that “Santa” brought him. As he rips open the paper, “Santa’s” chest swells with pride, he feels good and happy. As the brother runs around screaming about his new remote controlled F-14 Tomcat, “Santa” laughs and cleans up. But why did he feel that way? He had maybe one to every five presents that his brother received. Why? Why does “Santa” not feel jealous? Researchers have found that giving a present to another being actually feels better than receiving the gift. They used an fMRI and studied nineteen people play a game and either received or donated money that they won. The brain, more importantly, our unique frontal lobes, are evolving quicker due to giving from our hearts to other beings. Jordan Grafman, the leader of this happy project, asked nineteen fit volunteers to participate in a computer game while having their brains scanned by an fMRI. An fMRI is a machine that scans the brain for increased blood flow to the different blood vessels that accompany brain usage. The game gave out cash rewards and at the same time asked for donations to charities. They saw, because of the fMRI, that the structures that lit up when people received money were the ones that released Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that associates with happiness and reward. “Dopamine may be the link between rewarding sensations of pleasure and long term memory” (Ratey). But the interesting thing was that when someone gave to a charity, the same places lit up and were more stimulated then when people receive rewards. This also activated a certain type of neurotransmitter. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger from one neuron to another. This neurotransmitter is known as Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a “cuddle” neurotransmitter found everywhere. “…Oxytocin is the attachment phase between the male and female” (Ratey). They found that the activity in the prefrontal cortex, something completely unique to the human race, was busier when people made very large donations. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is involved in reasoning and decision-making. The most significant part of the research was that they figured out that donating is a learned behavior. “Working memory is a significant part of the executive functioning of the prefrontal cortex” (Ratey). “Tis better to give than receive” is one of the most famous verses in the Christian New Testament, and now it has been proven. Jordan Grafman and his team of scientists have found that giving a present to another being actually feels better than receiving a gift from one. Giving a gift activates your Dopamine and Oxytocin releasers, and prefrontal/frontal lobes and even evolves some of these areas. In the future, we could see if how much we give makes a difference in how much Dopamine or Oxytocin is released into our bodies. We could learn to share in a way that would make everyone feel as happy as giving or receiving the gift.

Bibliography

o Gramza, Joyce. “Tis Better to Give than Receive.” ScienCentral Video. 10/17/2006 NINDS and NIH. 2/20/2007

o Ratey, John J. A User’s Guide to the Brain. New York: Vintage Books, Copyright 1994.

Any suggestions or feedback for Jeffrey and Alexandra?

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12 Responses

  1. Alexandra says:

    Thanks! I’m glad you liked it!

    I was just reading through my essay and wished that I could have seen some of the silly grammatical errors that I see now. Oh well.

    I was really excited when Mr. Gonce told me what happened, because I want to be a doctor when I grow up. A Psychologist is my second career/major I’m thinking about. So to have a school psych paper published….well it says tons! 😉 Thank you again for publishing my essay!

    ~Alexandra Moody

    P.S Oh and I got 8.5 extra credit points which made my grade a 108.5% on my paper.
    THANKS A BUNCH! 😀

  2. Alvaro says:

    Hola Alexandra:

    As you can imagine, publishing your essay may well have released some
    dopamin and oxytocin in my own brain, so thank you too 🙂

    The essay is great as it is. The only suggestion I would make is
    making more clear paragraphs, so the text is more easily digestible.
    But it is simply great what you have written-and it suggests you will
    have good options to choose from when you graduate from high school.
    Until then, keep learning and doing such a great job!

    Ah, and of course let me know if you write other good essays! we’d be
    happy to consider them for publication, too.

  3. Kaylene Wance says:

    alex you did a wonderful job and i enjoyed the use of your brother and your dad. sadly i can say that my sister will never be in my papers because i think it would cause chaos.

    on another note you have given me a great idea on what to do with my paper.

    -kaylene

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