Giving is better than receiving – you’ve probably heard the phrase before. While it’s often understood as a moral lesson, did you know that scientific research backs it up?
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For decades, social scientists have wondered if humans are altruistic by nature. Latest science is starting to show that we most likely are.
According to the UK-based University of Notredame, scientists are using tools like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track precise circuits within the brain that control our nurturing impulses.
For instance, generous behaviour has been linked with activity in the reward regions of the brain, like the nucleus accumbens, and triggers an increase in dopamine, which is related to motivation and pleasure. Researchers have also found that generous behaviour triggers similar neural pathways as those triggered by parental behaviour – a connection that makes sense, since childrearing often requires a great deal of generosity and selfless behaviour.
Generosity has also been found to offer a wide range of benefits – both neurological and psychological. A 2017 study by the University of Zurich, Switzerland, published in the UK-based journal Nature Communications, compared people’s brain activity when they spent money on themselves and on others. They found that those who spent money on other people had increased activity in their temporal parietal junction and ventral striatum – the parts of the brain related to empathy and happiness respectively.
In another study, published in the US-based journal Science in 2008, researchers found that people’s sense of happiness was greater when they spent relatively more on others than on themselves. The pattern was found across all income levels, which went to show that even if people didn’t have much to offer, the act of giving to others still brought them great joy.