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.


  1. Bill George on December 23, 2008 at 8:16

    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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