In a study on the psychology of giving, MRI scans revealed that an area of the brain linked to generosity triggered a response in another part related to happiness.
Don’t hoard, be happy
After committing to spending, the participants replied to questions while their brains were being scanned. The questions evoked scenarios pitting the participants’ own interests against those of the beneficiaries of their experimental largesse.
The researchers examined activity in three areas of the brain — one linked to altruism and social behavior, a second to happiness, and a third area involved in decision-making.
The group that committed to giving money away reported being happier than self-spenders, the team found — even without having acted on their pledges. The degree of happiness they reported was independent of the amounts they committed.
The findings have implications for education, politics, economics, and public health, said the researchers.
“Generosity and happiness improve individual well-being and can facilitate societal success,” they wrote. “However, in everyday life, people underestimate the link between generosity and happiness and therefore overlook the benefits of… spending” on others.
Fascinating questions remain.
“Can communication between these brain regions be trained and strengthened?” asked Soyoung Park of the University of Luebeck in Germany, who co-authored the study. “Does the effect last when it is used deliberately, that is, if a person only behaves generously in order to feel happier?”
On Monday, a different study said humans were wired to help less fortunate people, but only if this does not upend the existing social pecking order.